‘G.I. babies’: Little outcasts

By Joel D. Pinaroc, The Manila Times, Sunday 25 April 2004

AT first glance, they look like foreigners or tourists wandering around the city. It's the worn-out clothes and look of despair that give them away.

Unlike their counterparts in other countries, American-Asians, or Amerasians, in the Philippines remain impoverished and neglected.

Although Amerasians are only a minority, compared with say street children in most cities in the Philippines, they have been suffering from discrimination, and most of them are denied the chance to become productive citizens.

A study made by the University of the Philippines' Center for Women Studies further disclosed startling facts affirming that many Amerasians have experienced some form of abuse and even domestic violence.

The findings cited cases of racial, gender and class discrimination that Amerasian children and youth suffer from strangers, peers, classmates and teachers.

The study also said black Amerasians seem to suffer more from racial and class discrimination than their white counterparts.

White female Amerasians are highly vulnerable to sexual harassment, the study noted.

Even more disturbing is the finding that parents of Amerasians sometimes discriminate against their own children.

According to the Learn. Ph. Foundation, a nongovernment organization that aims to improve the welfare of indigent groups through technology training, about 50,000 Amerasians are found mainly in Subic in Olongapo and Clark in Pampanga.

Abandoned early in life, these Amerasians, the NGO says, continue to suffer needlessly.

Most of them were abandoned after the US government closed its military facilities in the country in 1991.

The number of Amerasians, however, continues to rise because Filipina sex workers continue to flock to areas where US soldiers are stationed, particularly during military exercises between the Philippine and US troops.

Reports also said the sex workers from as far as Cebu in the south sometimes go to Clark and Subic to have sexual trysts with American tourists.

Perhaps owing to skin color and the fact that most have been born out of wedlock between sex workers and visiting American soldiers, the Learn. Ph. Foundation said these groups are not being given the chance to become productive citizens and that up to now the US government seems reluctant to recognize the lineage of the Amerasian children and withholds the benefits due them by virtue of their having American fathers.

Unlike say Amerasians in Okinawa in Japan, Amerasians in the Philippines are neglected by the US government. Proof of this is that the US government has given Amerasians in Okinawa the option to assume American citizenships; Amerasians in the Philippines are given a measly $75,000 as a token benefit, says Fr. Jose Maria Legaspi, who founded Learn.Ph.

Legaspi has seen a similar situation in New York, where he spent a few years working on another NGO dealing with youths living in ghettos, where ethnic groups are sometimes treated differently.

This, he said, prompted him to return to the Philippines and start his own foundation.

The government's role

In an apparent attempt to remove perceptions that it has done little to deal with the problem of G.I. babies, the government brought the issue to the attention of US President George W. Bush when he visited last year.

However, it took some prodding from many NGOs and a bill in Congress before President Arroyo presented the issue to Bush.

In the US, Congressman Juanita Millender-McDonald authored a bill that would empower Amerasians in the Philippines to immigrate to the US under the US Public Law 97-359, known as the Amerasian Immigration Act of 1982.

Under this law, Amerasians born in Korea, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam and Thailand can immigrate to the US and become citizens.

Sadly, Filipino-Amerasians are not covered by the law, which means Amerasian children cannot seek their American fathers to get support and other rights.

Legaspi also says the Philippine government seems to ignore the plight of Amerasians, and were it not for the insistence of a Filipina-American legislator in the US, not a single penny would have been given as assistance fund to the Amerasians.

If you ask me why the Philippine government continues to do little about the plight of Amerasians, I wouldn't know the answer, Legaspi says.


But he says the government is not helpless in dealing with the problem. With the help of a few government agencies and private groups, Amerasians in Subic and Clark have something to look forward to.

Legaspi says a scholarship initiative funded by an initial P5-million grant from the multinational company Microsoft Corp. has been started exclusively for indigent but deserving Amerasians in the former American bases.

These Amerasians will be trained in computer skills, which will help them land jobs after completing the training.

Legaspi says a work-placement arrangement is also being ironed out between the government and other companies, particularly locators in Subic and Clark, to provide jobs to successful Amerasian trainees.

He says that for 2004 an initial 800 Amerasian youths will benefit from the Microsoft-backed training. He hopes that more and more trainees can be accommodated in the coming years.

The training centers will be in two project sites: the People's Recovery, Empowerment and Development Assistance Foundation Center at the Subic Freeport and the Don Bosco Manpower Skills and Training Center at Clark.

In the meantime Filipino Amerasians can only wait and hope for the day the US government allows them to claim their birthright.