The Philippines

THEY ARE Americans, and rich ones, too.In this little farming town of southern Luzon they drive the bigger cars and live in the better homes.

Yet, despite a wave of nationalistic, sometimes anti-American feeling now sweeping these islands, the town loves them. "They are an inspiration to our young boys," says Mayor Ulpiano Duran. It is because, in one of many odd but increasingly important cross-Pacific connections here, these Americans are Filipinos too.

This is probably the most Americanized nation in the Eastern Hemisphere, but one that is undergoing an agony of self-examination over what its ties to its former colonial master should be. So the story of Frank Espanto, George Elgar and 600 other U.S. citizens tucked away in this remote town holds some significance. Espanto and Elgar are U.S. Navy Veterans, the product of more than 70 years of active recruitment of Filipinos into the U.S. armed forces and the granting of U.S. citizenship to Filipino servicemen and their children.

The Filipino-American bond spreads in other ways. About 4,000 Americans a year marry Filipinos here, a record equalled only in Korea. About 300,000 U.S. residents in the 1970 census claimed to be Filipino, but experts think the real number now is closer to 1 million. The U.S. consulate in Manila granted 30,500 immigrant visas in the last recorded year, more than any other single U.S. foreign post.

Then there are the 15,000 U.S. citizens of Filipino ancestry whose homes are scattered throughout the island - nobody is quite sure why so many are concentrated in Nabua. The advantage of living here rather than in the States is obvious. Navy pensions of more than $300 a monnth earned by 20-year veterans like Espanto and Elgar equal what an average Filipino makes in an entire year. In this market town for rice, coconut and vegetable farmers, they live like kings and serve as a rallying point for strong residual pro-American sentiment in the Philippines that has some bearing on the future military security of the United States.

To keep busy, Espanto has been working toward a political science degree at nearby University of North-eastern Philippines, but he said he isn't sure what he'll do with the degree when he gets it. George Elgar has gone to school too, taking advantage of the G.I. Bill, and has done a little farming.

Espanto said he joined the Navy as a radioman in part out of a sense of gratitude for what Americans, in taking over the islands from the Spanish in 1898, did for the Philippines. He does not mention the fact that the United States in the process quashed a Filipino rebellion that had nearly freed the country from all foreigh rule. But also like a good American, he has some complaints about the way his adopted government treats him.

At Subic Naval Base, to which the Nabua veteran somestimes travels by overnight train for medical care, "we're limited to $50 purchases a month at the commissary," Espanto said. He complained that Filipinos, U.S. citizens or not, cannot buy cigarettes or whisky at the base, and they are sometimes made to fill out special forms to enter the base even when they present their veterans identification.