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Violating Sanctions

An American Woman’s Listening Tour Through the Axis of Evil

Butterflying

The Author By Kelly Hayes-Raitt | February 25th, 2008 | Comments 3 Comments »

“She wanted to fly so high, she could see all the people on earth,” Dina Valencia says of her daughter. Six-year-old Crizel died eight years ago today from leukemia likely caused by the toxic wastes the US left behind when it formally closed Clark Air Base.
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Crizel leaves behind a portfolio of vibrant drawings of psychedelic butterflies, floating hearts, lush flowers and dancing vegetables. Her mother thumbs through a scrapbook of Crizel’s artwork, proudly showing off her daughter’s colorful spirit.
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She also leaves behind a year of painful memories for one frantic mother and a legacy of media interviews as the face of the impact of American military presence in the Philippines.

Clark was under US military control for 88 years until the Philippine Senate voted to close all 22 American bases on August 21, 1991. As we handed Clark over to the Philippine government that November, families from the surrounding communities who had been displaced by the recent eruption of Mount Pinatubo were relocated to the base’s old “motor pool,” where military vehicles had been brought for repair…and where toxic wastes had been dumped for years. Twenty-five million gallons of petroleum, oil, lubricants and other stuff were stored here, over time releasing PCBs, TCEs, mercury, pesticides, asbestos, far in excess of what our government’s environmental standard would allow in an American community. Toxics seeped into water, saturated the soil and scattered via dust particles.

During the next 14 years, 20,000 impoverished families, displaced from the volcano disaster, would live on this toxic land, would drink from the contaminated wells, and would breathe the poisoned air.

The entire base, the size of Singapore, is likely contaminated. Two rivers flow downhill, plaguing additional generations.

Today, gracious acacia trees lord over the desolate fields pockmarked by crumbling foundations. The poorest of families still live here. Children slide down the ancient tree branches, kicking up lethal dust as they land. Most families once again have been “resettled” to make room for a booming economic zone to be built on this unforgiving ground.

Although the US Government Accounting Office estimated in 1991 it would cost $8.4 million to clean up Clark’s 203 deep wells, the US has never paid a dime.

When her parents moved to Clark Air Base Command (CABCOM as it’s known), Crizel was a curious toddler. Her two brothers, Carlo and Rudolph, were born there. Her family lived on the base for four years before moving to a nearby community where they drank the same contaminated well water. Residents still talk about how a layer of oil sometimes skims a glass of tap water.

Crizel had been an artistic child who liked to show off her drawings and preen at her mirrored reflection. “She would look in the mirror and say she wanted to be a doctor and go the States and come back every week to see me,” her mother recalls the time before Crizel became ill.

While bathing her daughter one night, Dina noticed inexplicable bruises on Crizel’s diminutive body and a hard lump on her buttocks. “It felt like a stone,” her mother says, in between serving her neighborhood customers homemade chicken soup and fresh rolls from her gated porch storefront. She and her husband separated within a year of Crizel’s death, leaving the 32-year-old mother alone with her two surviving sons. Her home has smelled like succulent chicken soup since 4:00 this morning.

“All over her body, it was like mosquito bites,” Dina recounts those first mystifying moments. “But if you felt them, they were hard.” She rushed her daughter to the doctor, whose tests indicated leukemia. The doctor insisted Crizel be retested by a specialist in a town an hour away. Dina frantically carried her terrified daughter in a cramped tricycle and in two bumpy jeepneys, leaving her five– and four-year-olds at home with her husband. “I was scared, so scared,” she says, brushing her tears. “Crizel was crying. She was telling me not to leave her. It was as if I were the one leaving, not her.”

After her diagnosis, Crizel was in and out of hospitals during the year before she died. One hospital was in Manila, a two-hour bus ride away. Dina lived at the hospital, while her husband cared for their sons and their store. They couldn’t afford a private doctor, and were living off government care and donations.

Crizel was allowed to come home for her last Christmas. Dina’s scrapbook shows the two boys strumming plastic guitars and a smiling bald Crizel, serene in a pink ruffled sundress. Her brothers didn’t understand what was happening. They were allowed to visit their sister in the hospital for only five minutes and all they could say was, “Come home.”

Dina is worried about her sons’ health. Although they show no symptoms, the doctors told her the toxics can live through three generations. She’s watched her neighbors deal with breast cancers, stillbirths, deformed infants, chronic vomiting. No one’s bothered to pay for an epidemiological study, but she sees her heartache reflected family after family.
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“We knew it was her last Christmas,” Dina says softly. “Christmas Eve, she passed out and I thought she had died. We called the priest. I thought it was the last time we would be together, but Crizel said she was just ‘traveling somewhere.’ The next morning, Christmas morning, she woke up and said she was hungry.

“Although Crizel was sick all the time, it seemed like her life was easy,” her mother muses, pausing at each page of the scrapbook, touching the crayoned butterflies fluttering in vivid hues. “Every drawing, she’s happy.”

Crizel’s last wish was to tour the Rainbow Warrior, Greenpeace’s boat that promotes environmental activism. The morning of the boat tour, “Crizel didn’t eat, she was sick, vomiting. She had blood on her…” the mother’s voice trails off.

“After the tour, she said she was tired, and we brought her to a cabin. I told her if she’s tired, she must go, that we’d all be fine.” Dina’s lip quivers and her gaze travels somewhere else. “‘Your body will die,’ I told her, ‘but your spirit will always be with us.’ She told me she loved me, and she died.”
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I look at the photos of the girl with the round eyes, the wispy hair, and the face shaped like the hearts she drew. Crizel hated being bald. She drew herself with butterflied locks flowing out of spiky hair. She drew her tiny body in an oversized hospital bed with flowing tubes and flowers.

But she never drew the toxics that killed her.

[Postscript: During Crizel’s last precious year, Dina advocated for support for victims of the US military’s toxic wastes. Eight years after her daughter’s death, she remains active in the People’s Task Force for Bases Cleanup (e-mail: myrla_b@yahoo.com) speaking at meetings, testifying at hearings and supporting other mothers who families are devastated by the effects of toxic wastes.]
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3 Responses to “Butterflying”

  1. John Reinke Says:

    This is a very sad story. For more information on the People’s Task Force for Bases Cleanup, go to this link:

    http://www.yonip.com/main/taskforce.html

  2. Janet Bridgers Says:

    The U.S.’s legacy of toxic waste will not soon be forgotten, even if not deliberate. And we know from the Superfund list in the U.S. that very few toxic waste sites are ever successfully cleaned up, and then only at enormous expense.

    As if this little planet didn’t need all the intelligence and energy that healthy people can bring to problem solving, instead, our chemical pollution in air, water and food supplies will create large numbers of severely handicapped individuals, as well as legions of the “dumbed down,” hardly equipped to deal with life as they find it on any level above brutal subsistance. This is a tragedy that will roll on long after us.

  3. Self Storage Rochdale Says:

    Great comment, love the design of the site too.

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