MANY Filipinos wonder if keeping American military bases is worth it. Not in Olongapo City. A rowdy bazaar of bars, massage parlors, and prostitutes, this honky-tonk town of 250,000 people depends on nearby Subic Bay Naval Station for its economic life.
Olongapo City has paid a high price for its years as a recreation stop for American servicemen. Pornography, child abuse, venereal disease, and drug addiction are widespread, critics of the US facilities say.
Still, the continued presence of the US bases is almost gospel here. ``My position isn't to keep the bases forever,'' says Mayor Richard Gordon. ``But withdrawing them now will simply make for more suffering.''
Owners of the city's many nightclubs, which are interspersed with VD clinics and slums where many the bar girls live, say that business has nose-dived after a spate of attacks on Americans by communist rebels.
The attacks soured relations between the two countries. Fearing further communist-instigated strife, the US government this summer withdrew its Peace Corps volunteers from the Philippines.
US and Philippine officials agree that relations improved a bit after the massive US relief effort for earthquake victims and the return of a kidnapped Peace Corps worker two weeks ago.
But through the ups and downs, Olongapo City has stood by the bases. Carolina, who says she is about 21, waits on the street outside the New Pussycat Disco. The mother of a two-year-old, she says she hopes the base will remain so she can find a husband.
``I hope my daughter and I can go to the United States,'' she says.