‘Amerasian’ children of war face poverty and stigma in Philippines
Those fathered by American soldiers experience a lonely cycle of hardship and marginalisation without parents
When the last US ship pulled out of the Philippines' Subic Bay naval base more than two decades ago, a desperate young woman's hopes of finding her father sailed away with it.
Beirut Calaguas, now 44, is among the tens of thousands of "Amerasians" fathered by US soldiers who served in the Philippines, home to the US military's biggest overseas bases until they closed down in 1992.
Like so many others, Calaguas has endured a life of discrimination and poverty, while battling the mental trauma of having been abandoned and not knowing her biological parents.
"When the Americans left, my heart broke. I resigned my fate to never finding my father," said the fair-skinned, brown-eyed Calaguas at her ramshackle home in a run-down suburb close to the former US bases.
Despite one study estimating there are as many as 250,000 Amerasians and their offspring in the Philippines, they are a largely forgotten community.
Their plight, however, is gaining fresh attention with the United States preparing to deploy thousands of soldiers back to the Philippines as part of its "pivot" to Asia.
Clark Air Base in Angeles city and the Subic naval base in nearby Olongapo - about two hours' drive north of Manila - were vital Pacific operations for the American military for half a century.
Both played crucial roles as logistics and repair hubs during the Vietnam war in the 1960s and 70s, with Clark also serving as a launch pad for bomb attacks.
Hundreds of thousands of US troops and civilian contractors rotated through the bases for work and holidays, giving rise to infamous red-light districts.
Go-go bars and massage parlours were typically the meeting places for the US servicemen and the women who would bear them unwanted or unknown children. These half-Americans were also often abandoned by their mothers.
According to a study by the Philippine Amerasian Research Centre in Angeles city, there were believed to be at least 50,000 children born to US fathers when the bases closed.
They were brought up by their mother's relatives, informally adopted by neighbours, taken care of by charity groups or abandoned completely and forced to beg. Many began adulthood as prostitutes.
The Amerasians' problems have deepened with time, according to a 2012 study by a research unit led by Peter Kutschera, head of the research centre.
Kutschera described Filipino Amerasians as "a marginalised, at risk, highly stressed population" adding they were particularly vulnerable to drug use and prostitution.
For Calaguas, life has been as brutal as it has been typical of many Filipino Amerasians.
Struggling to pay the rent, Calaguas' mother entrusted her to her landlord, pledging to one day return. She never did. Calaguas dropped out of school at 17 and, unable to find work locally, acquired fake travel documents so she could become an entertainer at clubs in Japan that also catered to US servicemen. She bore one a child. "I fell in love with a soldier, and got pregnant, so now, I also have an Amerasian son," she said.
The Philippine government is expected to seal the deal late this year to welcome US soldiers back to Subic and other bases. On the fringes of the bases, there are fears the US soldiers will plant another baby time bomb.
"Many [new Amerasians] over time will become the abandoned, forsaken offspring of soldiers and contractors," Kutschera said.