When I landed at Clark Air Base in the Philippines in 1987, I landed in a country in transition. There was political unrest, instability and yet hope at all the same time. Ferdinand Marcos was out and Corazon Aquino was in. The Filipino people held their breath to see if things would get better. The US personnel at Clark Air Base held their breath to see if things would stay stable.
Corazon Aquino Ferdinand Marcos Imelda Marcos
Ferdinand Marcos ruled the Philippines from 1965 to 1986 (https://www.britannica.com/biography/Ferdinand-E-Marcos). Arguably, he started off as a decent leader, but as the saying goes, “power corrupts”. Corruption increased steadily through the years. In 1983 his major opponent, Benigno Aquino, was assassinated.
In 1986, Aquino’s widow, Corazon ran for president under the slogan, “People Power”. Although Marcos “won” the election, fraud was documented as being widespread. The people exerted their “people power” and protested. Marcos was escorted out of the country with his wife Imelda, by the United States and taken to Hawaii. When the Filipinos entered the Presidential Palace they found shoes…hundreds of pairs of shoes, belonging to Imelda. Hence began the expression, “She’s got more shoes than Imelda Marcos”. (For the story on her shoes see: https://imeldamarcos.weebly.com/her-closet.html)
When I arrived in the Fall of 1987 Aquino had been in power for 19 months and stability was present, but not secure. I was relieved to learn that we would be staying in the Visiting Officer Quarters (VOQ) on Clark Air Base. That seemed a much safer option to me than being put up in a hotel off base, as if often the case when the VOQ is full.
The next day we returned to the flight line to meet Dorothy and the crew she had flown with (see previous blog: https://www.doctoraviation.com/tanker-trip-to-guam-ix-the-philippines/) They were responsible for carrying a lot of the cargo and gear for the exercise we were going to participate in over the next week. There was a lot of gear. Attached are some photos of the offloading of the cargo. Note the wooden bins that boom operators constructed back in the cargo bay. It allowed the cargo to be stacked higher and thus be contained in a smaller space.
We basically constructed a human chain to unload all the gear. Officers as well as enlisted unloaded. We had a lot of stuff!
I learned that Clark Air Base was next to Angeles City. The second a military member walked off of the base into Angeles City, he/she was met by a Filipino offering to take you out to dinner, a show, a ride in their vehicle, etc. Often it was part of a huge scam plan. Once I said hi to a man that approached because I thought Kevin knew him. Kevin said hi, because he thought I knew him. The guy begged us to come over to his house for dinner. Soon Kevin and I figured out that we both did not know the guy, so we declined his offer, even after persistent attempts.
A permanent party guy from Andersen AFB who had “hopped” over to the PI with us was not so fortunate. The young man had told us on the flight over that he was in the market for a big fish tank. He saw an ad in a local newspaper for fish tanks. The US guy called and was told the address to which to come. He went to the address, did not find a fish tank, but found a poker game. “Being the card shark that I am” (his phrase, not mine), he stayed for the game. After a trip back to Clark Air Base to cash a check to get more money, he was totally fleeced and lost several hundred dollars in a scam. A call back to Guam to tell his wife that he needed more money deposited in their bank account did not help his situation.
Roasted Dog (left) was a delicacy. Kobe Beef (right) was also popular. I had only the Kobe Beef
I found that things were very cheap on the island. I got a professional massage at the Clark Air Base Gym for 30 minutes and it cost me 1 dollar. Almost everything off base was bartered for. I purchased a pair of “jams” for the equivalent of a dime. I also got some polo shirts and some custom made dress shoes and belt that I wore for years. For the dress shoes, they literally did a trace of my feet. I came back two days later and “voila” there were a pair of black shoes made to exactly fit my feet.
There were no rental cars on base, so the best way to get around is by “jeepney” as the locals called their taxis. A ride cost the equivalent of a dime. Here is a picture of me, Kevin, and Dorothy about to board a jeepney.
I found that the Filipino people loved American culture, especially pop music. I often heard beautiful long haired Filipino girls singing “Always” by Atlantic Starr with their eyes closed as they tended their market shops.
The restaurant menu was usually exciting. Dog was a favorite cuisine. One night after getting Kobe Beef (a local favorite I was introduced to) we ran into Tom Jarriel of ABC’s 20/20. It is amazing, after being in the PI hearing only Filipino spoken, how refreshing it was to run into some Americans who were not in the military. Interestingly, the 20/20 team never told us what story they were working on.
In the next blog I will share the three most fascinating experiences I had while touring the PI. The featured photo at the top of the blog is a picture of one of the many Philippine islands I snapped from my co-pilot’s seat.