US sub’s visit reminds Aetas of bases days

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THE USS ASHEVILLE, a Los Angeles-class submarine, docks in Subic on Saturday. The US sub has a top speed of 32 knots underwater. It has its home port in San Diego, California. ROBERT GONZAGA/INQUIRER CENTRAL LUZON

SUBIC BAY FREEPORT—While Aetas watched on the sidelines, the US submarine USS Asheville docked here on Saturday to replenish provisions.

Some of the Aetas said it was like old times, as the submarine crew disembarked for rest and recreation at the former American naval base.

“There was a time when we could roam inside the [US naval] base, and go in and out without IDs (identification cards). But others needed an escort or an ID to get in here,”  Rommel Abueng recalled. This was because the Americans respected the Aetas, he said.

Abueng was with a group of Aetas as well as employees who stood in front of the administration building of the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority to await the arrival of an official delegation from Timor-Leste.

Timor-Leste Prime Minister Kay Rala Xanana Gusmão was received by President Benigno Aquino in Malacañang on Wednesday prior to the President’s state visit to Burma (Myanmar).

Curious tribe

But when the US submarine arrived at Subic Bay, most of the Aetas and employees rushed to the Alava Pier here to watch two tugboats guide the US vessel to the dock. The USS Asheville (SSN 758) and the submarine tender USS Frank Cable (AS 40), which assists the undersea vessel, will stay in Subic for a few days for routine port calls.

Abueng said the Americans used to consult their elders and men of the villages, asking to be taught about jungle survival. The requests sometimes came from the US Marines, he said. “We taught them how to survive in the jungle because we live there,” he said.

Because of these engagements, some of the Aetas learned to speak fluent English, he said. Whenever the American soldiers encountered them at the base before the 1990s, they gave the Aetas food and candies.

The bases were pulled out in 1991 and the Aetas’ privileges were lost with them, Abueng said. He said the Aetas had to find work in the business community that  replaced the Americans in Subic.

Souvenirs

An Aeta woman said her village still interacted with the Americans whenever they were in Subic. “But now we sell them our handicraft  … They bring [these products] home as souvenirs,” she said.

A statement from the American Embassy said the port call of the two vessels would “highlight the strong historic community and military relations between the Philippines and the United States.”

While in Subic, the Frank Cable and the Asheville will refuel and receive supplies, and  the crew will undertake community service in nearby areas, the statement added.

The US submarine, named after the city of Asheville in North Carolina, was commissioned in 1991. It is 91 meters long and has a top speed of 32 knots underwater. The USS Frank Cable was commissioned in 1980. It is nearly 200 meters long and has a crew of 1,500. Robert Gonzaga, Inquirer Central Luzon

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