Tens of thousands of people jammed the streets of this port city Friday for an emotional farewell to the U.S. Navy, which abandons nearby Subic Bay naval base next week.
The transfer Tuesday of the Navy's largest base in Asia marks the end of nearly 100 years of American military presence in this former colony.Most of the 300,000 residents of the city depended on the base for their livelihood. In September 1991, the Philippine Senate rejected a new 10-year lease for Subic and the government gave the Americans until the end of this year to leave.
The government hopes to transform Subic into a commercial center.
Mayor Richard Gordon and Adm. Thomas Mercer, the base commander, led thousands of cheering residents in a march from City Hall to the base gates a half-mile away.
Applauding crowds lined the road to the base gates. Some held up placards that read "Thanks America for Everything" and "Philippine-American Friendship Forever."
Several elderly Filipino men saluted as Gordon, Mercer, other Navy officers and city officials passed. Some bar girls and employees unfurled red, white and blue bunting from windows.
Gordon, chairman of a government agency in charge of converting the base into an industrial zone, called for public support in guarding the Subic forest, among the last remaining virgin stands in the country, and in improving the port facilities to be left behind by the Americans.
"We hope that there would be opportunities in the future for us to continue to cooperate, for us to continue to come here for aircraft landing, passing through, and ship visits," Mercer said.
When the parade ended at the gate, some of the women cried as the crowd sang the farewell song, "Auld Lang Syne."
"There is an ache in my chest," said Dolor Laban, a 27-year-old cashier in a photo shop. "It's sad . . . The friendship was good, that's why I cry."
The port was the frequent destination of U.S. carrier battle groups needing repairs and supplies. Thousands of sailors and Marines would flood its streets and honky-tonk bars.