Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Military heritage

Have you ever been to Fort Stotsenburg? Perhaps you have, several times, without even realizing you were there. Fort Stotsenburg is the core around which Clark Air Base was built at the turn of the XXth century, during the USA invasion of our republic. When I first went there, a Filipino (General Camua) had just been assigned to head the command office (excuse my inaccurate military terms) and he was kind enough to show me around. There was a cluster of white cement houses with green roofs and as we drove past a two-story one, I told General Camua he should convert it into a museum, to which he replied with an amused smile—“ But, that is where I live.”

I went to Fort Stotsenburg again, a month ago, and was relieved to see the cement houses intact, albeit disguised as seaside dwellings with roofs painted in blazing Mediterranean blue. However, the heritage setting of what was Fort Stotsenburg is now somewhat disfigured by a hotel of indiscernible architecture, painted in various tones of peach, but named after the American general. Worse things could have happened.

Speaking of our neglected military heritage, this letter came from Mr. Conrado Rigor of Seattle, Washington who read my article about Mayor Alfredo Lim´s concern for the built heritage resources of Manila . Mr. Rigor wrote: “As a homesick expat living in America, the old landmarks you so affectionately write about like the Jai-Alai, the Manila Jockey Club, the Manila Opera House, and others light up visions of our glorious past… I happen to be what you would call an Army brat. My father was in the military, the old professional variety during the era of the great Ramon Magsaysay. “

While Mr. Rigor was growing up, he lived in Camp Henry T. Allen in Baguio, Camp Murphy ( now Crame) in Quezon City, and in Ft. William McKinley (renamed Bonifacio).. He now wants to know the “startling fate” or what has become of Ft. McKinley, (Ft. Bonifacio), “…after it was unceremoniously turned into a commercial area.” Reminiscing, he said :” As a high school student in the late 1950s , I saw American tourists come by the busloads to visit the old, historic American quarters inside Ft. McKinley because they were the same ones built by the first U.S. Army long before Douglas MacArthur even arrived in the country.”

Truly nostalgic, Mr. Rigor continued to say that he and his gang of adventurous Army brats, ”… used to explore some of the tunnels (similar to Corregidor's Malinta Tunnel,with space large enough for trucks and tanks to move about). I now wonder whatever happened to those mysterious caves and tunnels that my Dad used to say were emergency spaces built by the early Americans. Those tunnels would have been historical gems and sure-fire tourist attractions if they had been preserved.” Indeed!

Mr. Rigor ended with a sad note: “We who had grown up and had become so attached to the memory of Ft. McKinley feel that some people simply got blinded by greed to have chosen to destroy and sell such a historic place...Please write more about this little-known episode regarding Ft. Bonifacio. I realize you may be waking up sleeping wolves but I guess there is no other way to bring home a point unless one points to such gross indifference to our heritage..”

Fort Bonifacio was sold purportedly to finance the modernization of the Philippine Armed Forces, but unlike Fort Stotsenburg, there is not a trace of what it used to be. However, the army has little to show, it was probably better equipped when you were an army brat, Mr. Rigor.. Suffice it to say that the wolves in question are in uniform, always foraging and never sleeping.

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