On June 13, 1991, one day after Pinatubo's Independence Day first eruption, the United States military raised a nuclear alert at Clark and informed the Philippine and Hong Kong governments that “a nuclear accident in the region was possible.” That report came from the London-based newspaper The Guardian.
But why were there nuclear weapons at Clark in the first place??
The 1987 Philippine Constitution had banned them from Philippine territory, and both Pentagon and the US State Department had always maintained the policy of neither confirming nor denying their presence.
According to The Guardian, the ash fall from the June 12 eruption had blocked the ventilation shafts of underground bunkers in Clark where cruise missiles with nuclear warheads were stored, triggering a nuclear alert. Instead of staying to clear the shafts, the 200 US servicemen assigned to the bunkers panicked and reportedly fled, using an underground tunnel that led to a telecommunications center known as “the Elephant Cage” (see photo). This telecommunications center has been converted into Clark Expo today.
The Guardian said that there were not dozens, not hundreds but thousands of nuclear warheads stored at US bases in the Philippines, Guam and South Korea. Clark officials, however, said that the only weapons stored at Clark at the time of the eruption were 3,370 tons of conventional munitions in two munitions storage areas (MSA) near the Dau exit. “Even if those bunkers were covered with lava or ash or cinders, or anything else that could come out of an erupting volcano,” bragged the US Defense Department, “there is a very low probability it would damage the contents of those igloos.”
Prof. Roland Simbulan, chair of the Anti-Bases Coalition, suspected that the 15,000 US servicemen who made a hasty evacuation from Clark to Subic on June 9 were actually fleeing not from a possible eruption but from a possible nuclear explosion, or both.
Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile said that no amount of US denial could convince people that Clark was safe from a nuclear threat, adding that President Cory Aquino owed it to the Filipino people to warn them so that they could take the necessary precautions.
When Cory finally issued a statement, she merely said the newspaper story was "baseless and purely fabricated."
Written by Robby Tangtingco
Photos credit to the owner