ANGELES CITY, PHILIPPINES -- American military officials have begun to ease some of the restrictions on the movements of U.S. servicemen and dependents imposed after three Americans were slain outside Clark Air Base here last month.
For the residents of Angeles, many of whose businesses and livelihoods depend on American patronage, the easing of the restrictions to allow the servicemen into the town during the daylight working hours has brought a respite from three long weeks that had threatened to turn this once bustling city into a ghost town.
"The base was closed, so we had no customers," said Wina Atienza, a 24-year-old "bargirl," or prostitute, at Earthquake McGoon's pub. "So we prayed to our God Almighty, please let the GIs come back so we can have money."
The bargirls at McGoon's have not been paid since the Oct. 28 shootings at Clark.
"It's already a very sad Christmas for us," said Lisa, 28, another bargirl at Earthquake McGoon's. When she was informed that Angeles City authorities had arrested 23 suspected communists in connection with the slayings, Lisa said: "I don't like the communists. They don't want the Americans here. I like the Americans. They are nice. I want the bases to stay here. Forever."
As she spoke, a small group of U.S. servicemen ventured in to the delighted squeals of some bargirls. The GIs ordered beers and returned to some of the bar's favorite leisure-time activities, such as pool and table football.
Down the street, at the Cock 'n Bull Tavern, American manager Ed McCoy, a 50-year-old former mercenary, was slouched against the bar in his empty pub, sipping a San Miguel beer and nursing back to health an arm and two legs broken during a past parachute jump into a jungle in Zaire. His cotton shirt bore the names of African countries where he said he has seen past adventures, including Angola, which he still remembers as "a good war." But that was before injuries and a Filipino wife brought him to Angeles City.
"We used to have GIs coming in here until 3 or 4 in the morning," he said, scanning the nearly deserted bar, where the only sign of life was a bargirl racking pool balls.
"We haven't paid the girls in a couple of weeks," he sighed. "Sometimes, if there are no customers in here, I tell them to close" the place down. "The electricity bill for the lights costs more than one of these," he said tapping his beer bottle.
Long You Jeng Y. Cheng, owner of Cheng's Chinese restaurant, has lived in the Philippines since coming here from his native Canton Province in 1935. He remembers serving meals to Gen. Douglas MacArthur, the commander-in-chief of allied forces in the Pacific during World War II who is now immortalized by the name of the highway by which Cheng's five-year-old restaurant sits.
At the peak of the lunch hour one day last week, only four out of 25 tables were full at Cheng's. "Conditions here are not so good," Cheng mused.
Cheng remembers better times, when the restaurant was almost always full, especially in the evenings, mostly with Americans. Now, he says, since the restrictions were placed on U.S. servicemen leaving the base, "I'm happy if I see a single customer."
The story is the same throughout most of this part of town, the shopping and entertainment district adjacent to Clark's main gate that depends heavily on Americans spending their dollars. "No customers since the Americans were shot," said one salesclerk at the Crus optical and photo shop.
Angeles City Mayor Francisco Nepomuceno said he estimates that about 200 to 300 bars and nightclubs depend on the base for business. He had no estimate for the amount of money the city has lost since the Americans were restricted to the base. Some other businesses have also been affected because there is less money in circulation.
"It's a chain reaction," he said.
Nepomuceno and other city officials are hoping that the announcement last week of 23 arrests in the slayings will bring Angeles City back to normal. The 23 are all suspected members of the Communist Party of the Philippines, and they were among dozens arrested in police raids of known rebel safehouses.
The 23 were all charged with murder and multiple murder, according to deputy police chief Maj. Efren Alamares.
"We have even doubled patrols because Americans are now going in and out of the bases," he said. "Angeles City is now clean because of this operation. Angeles City is very peaceful now."
At Clark, however, Maj. Thomas Boyd, the base spokesman, warned servicemen over the Far East Network television station that the base "is still under a terrorist threat." He warned Americans to continue to exercise vigilance.