Clark cemetery now a PH-US ‘battleground’ | Global News

Clark cemetery now a PH-US ‘battleground’

By: - Reporter / @TarraINQ
/ 04:45 AM January 11, 2015

HALLOWED GROUND Old allies never die. They’re just fighting over again—this time for space at Clark Veterans Cemetery in Angeles, Pampanga. AP

HALLOWED GROUND Old allies never die. They’re just fighting over again—this time for space at Clark Veterans Cemetery in Angeles, Pampanga. AP

This hallowed resting place of Filipino and American soldiers is now a seeming battleground between two long-standing allies.

The Philippines and the United States are swapping complaints over burial rights at Clark Veterans Cemetery (CVC), a 68-year-old burial ground for US veterans and Filipino soldiers located in Pampanga that it now appears is being planned for restoration in accordance with recently passed US legislation.


The 7-hectare cemetery has been under the control of the state-run Bases Conversion and Development Authority (BCDA) after the US military abandoned Clark Air Force Base in 1991 following the eruption of Mt. Pinatubo.


It is known to be the final resting place of some 8,600 war veterans, including fallen American soldiers from battles as far back as the Spanish-American War, through more recent conflicts, and the Filipino scouts who saw action under the US Army in World War II, along with their dependents.

In 2013, however, the US signaled its interest in taking control of the cemetery, initiating efforts to restore it, after US President Barack Obama signed into law the Dignified Burial and Other Veterans’ Benefits Improvement Act of 2012.

The legislation included a provision introduced by US Senators Kelly Ayotte and Mark Begich, which “requires the American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) to restore, operate, and maintain the CVC.”

A press statement posted on Jan. 11, 2013, on the official website of Ayotte, the New Hampshire senator who pushed for the passage of the CVC restoration law, said the US considered CVC “a permanent American cemetery in a foreign country.”

The cemetery remains to be a Philippine property.

The statement, which announced the passage of the CVC rehabilitation law, said the ABMC was “the appropriate federal agency to oversee the cemetery’s management and maintenance.”


The ABMC also takes care of the Mexico City National Cemetery and the Corozal American Cemetery in Panama, “both of which are similar to the CVC,” the statement said. The ABMC also runs US veteran cemeteries and monuments around Europe.

In December 2013, the US Embassy and the BCDA signed an agreement under which the US allocated $5 million in funding for the rehabilitation of the CVC.

After the signing of the pact, however, there followed a sharp disagreeement between the US Embassy and the BCDA president and chief executive officer Arnel Paciano Casanova over what the latter claimed was the former’s objection to Filipino soldiers being buried in the cemetery.

According to Casanova, there has been “no formal turnover yet” in terms of operational control of the cemetery for the US to object to the burial of Filipinos at the CVC.

Casanova protested in a strongly worded letter on Oct. 13, 2014, to US Deputy Chief of Mission in Manila Brian Goldbeck, who had allegedly conveyed that message to him in a meeting five days earlier.

“For the record, I take exception to your position that while we should allow US veterans to be buried in the cemetery, you disagreed strongly [to] allowing Filipino soldiers and veterans to be buried there,” said Casanova in his letter to the US official, a copy of which was obtained by the Inquirer.

“By taking the position that we cannot bury our own Filipino soldiers on that site, you are basically saying that as hosts—after welcoming you and embracing you warmly in our house—we should then look for our children to leave the house and go in the cold wilderness and homelessness as you enjoy the comfort and warmth of our home,” he said.

He said Goldbeck suggested that Filipino soldiers be buried elsewhere, and reportedly “threatened to bring the matter to [the] US Congress,” saying it would “take umbrage” if the Philippine side insists on having “the same privilege given to Filipino soldiers”.

“Here we are, opening our doors to them as a sign of goodwill, but what we receive in return is a disrespect and discrimination against our own. That’s why I wrote that strong letter,” said Casanova in an interview.


US burials suspended

Casanova forthwith ordered the suspension of US burials at the Pampanga cemetery—a move that caught Ayotte’s attention.

In a letter to Philippine Ambassador to the United States Jose Cuisia Jr., Ayotte said the suspension had “placed financial and emotional burdens on families of [US] veterans.”

“I am gratified by the cooperation between our two governments to ensure American veterans and their family members buried there have the dignified final resting place they have earned. However, I am concerned by reports that burials at [CVC] have been suspended, and I request your help in rectifying this situation as soon as possible,” said Ayotte in her letter, a copy of which was posted on her website.

She reminded Cuisia of the 2013 Veterans Law, which authorized the ABMC to manage the CVC. The US lawmaker asked the ambassador’s help “in resolving this situation as soon as possible.”

“I am sure you would agree that when a family of a veteran is grieving the loss of their loved one, they should not have to cope with bureaucratic obstacles related to burial arrangements,” Ayotte said.

Casanova’s Sept. 30, 2014 letter to Goldbeck, did show that the BCDA had indeed ordered the suspension of burials at the cemetery pending the rehabilitation of the facility.

He said Filipino and American veterans deserved “a memorial park befitting the nobility of their supreme sacrifice.”

“This cannot be done if new burials will be allowed before its full restoration. As of this time, no restoration has been commenced or a clear plan presented,” the BCDA chief said in his letter, suggesting that the US “immediately” begin restoration efforts.

The real issue

On Saturday, however, Casanova said that “we have not suspended the burials” and that they were “ongoing.”

“The real issue is the discrimination,” he said.

“I feel it’s a discrimination against our own soldiers, which we cannot allow. It’s the right of our soldiers to be buried in the Philippines, and Philippine land is inalienable,” he said in an interview.


Burial of veterans in US-funded cemetery suspended

Funds for Clark’s ‘forgotten cemetery’ hang in balance

Obama OKs $5M for vets’ cemetery in PH

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TAGS: Angeles City, BCDA, Brian Goldbeck, cemetery, Clark, Clark Veterans Cemetery, mt. Pinatubo eruption, Pampanga, Spanish-American war, US military

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