America's Troubled Legacy in the Philippines

As US bases are closed, Amerasian children struggle with sense of identity, rejection

MARILYN LOZADA is one of the better-known club owners near the giant Subic Bay Naval Station and proud of it. "This is a good business for me. I'm helping girls with no education," she says from behind the dimly lit bar. "I have no regrets ... I would do it all again."But 16-year-old Catherine, tall and fair beside her petite Filipina mother, winces. Catherine says that, as one of two children from Ms. Lozada's 17-year liaison with an American merchant seaman, she has long stood out. "In school, we were bothered and asked if our father is American and teased about when are we going to the States and why are we not now in America," says the teenager, pushing back her long, brown curls. "I'm sorry, Mama," she says, turning to her mother, "but I don't think this is a good business." The Philippines wants the United States to vacate Subic Bay Naval Station by the end of 1992, winding down an almost century-old military presence here. But thousands of Amerasian children have been left behind to face a troubled future. More than 5,000 children of American and Philippine parentage live in the shadow of the naval station, one of the largest US overseas defense facilities. They are among an estimated 50,000 Amerasians in the Philippines dating back to the Spanish-American war at the turn of the century - the largest such community in Asia, according to the Pearl S. Buck Foundation, a private organization working with Amerasians. For the many US sailors and servicemen imbibing the legendary night life, the twin honky-tonk towns of Subic and Olangapo City are a neon-flooded paradise of bars and clubs. But children from the often-casual encounters are frequently left fatherless, unaccepted, and adrift, say Filipino social workers. Although having a child with an American raises hopes of a new life in the US, only about 15 percent of the children have paternity acknowledged on their birth certificates, says William McCabe, Pearl Buck director for the Philippines. Once a serviceman has left the Philippines, locating him through US military channels and persuading him to accept responsibility for a child can be a complicated, uphill task. "Most of the letters go unanswered," Mr. McCabe says of paternity claims. "I hate these irresponsible American fathers who just leave these children," says Natividad Arroyo Saraspi, who heads the Pearl Buck office in Olangapo City. "They just plant their seeds in the Philippines and go away and don't even say goodbye."

'The Caucasian features' As in many Asian cultures that value tradition and racial purity, children of mixed parentage in the Philippines live with the happenstance of their color and the brutality of racism. Pacita Sarato, a woman who has worked in the bars near Subic for eight years, knew the father of her six-year-old Irene Kristine for only three days. She remembers his name and his ship but doesn't know where he is. Still, she says she's proud to be the mother of the rambunctious blond girl playing on a bar stool amid blaring disco music. m not angry because I had been dreaming of having an American child," says Ms. Sarato. "An American child turns out to be so beautiful because of the Caucasian features." For Lehera Bautista, though, her dark skin often means discrimination. The daughter of a Filipina and a black American, the 15-year-old once applied for a food service job and was turned down because the manager said she was still in high school. But when her best friend, who has a Filipina mother and a white American father, applied, the fairer girl was accepted. "I don't like to apply anymore," says Lehera. "Some teachers and others are biased when it comes to the children who are half-black, but they accept the white ones who they think are good-looking," says Saraspi, the Pearl Buck official. With their mothers working in the bars nightly, many Amerasian children suffer from neglect and often are abandoned. At the Lingap Center for street children in Olangapo City, social workers say the Amerasian children are the most difficult to manage. "Most of their parents are entertainers, and they are left alone or not disciplined," says Adelina Apostol, head of the government-run center. "They're always anxious to know who their father is and find their father. That's why they go into the streets, looking for their father." In most instances, though, they won't find him, says the social worker. Frequently, the mother doesn't know the father long enough to find out his name.

Looking for daddy Carol Gervacio's mother was a bar girl before her. Now the 16-year-old is on the street nightly, earning to support three younger sisters and a brother and hoping for clues about her unknown American father. "I want to find my daddy," says the teenager. "Maybe I will meet an American who turns out to be my father." Occasionally a father does resurface, social workers say. Nineteen-year-old Rubin Marin is on his way to the US with his mother and two younger brothers to live with his father. Left homeless with no means of support after the eruption of nearby Mt. Pinatubo last summer, the family contacted the father with the help of Philippine government social workers, and he agreed to accept the children.

Difficult reintegration Rubin is unsure what to expect in California, his new home, but knows he wants to be a Marine like the father he has never really known. "I once saw a movie about fighting in the war," the lanky youth says in halting English. "I want to defend that country." For the majority of mothers and Amerasian children who remain behind, though, reintegrating and rebuilding their lives in the Philippines can be difficult. Filipinos are hesitant to marry women with children born from casual relationships. "Because of jealousy, the Filipino stepfather won't accept that there were former men in the woman's life," says Mrs. Apostol. But there are exceptions. Lily Bautista, who long ago forgot the name of Lehera's father, has been married since 1970 to a former Filipino base worker who adopted her daughter. "He is generally understanding," Mrs. Bautista says in their ramshackle house. "If he loves a woman, he has to accept it."

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.