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Last Updated: Wednesday, 16 November 2005, 14:32 GMT
Left behind in the Philippines
By Nick Meo
in the Philippines

When the last US ships sailed out of Subic Bay in 1992, the US Navy was not just leaving behind its biggest base anywhere in the world.

Gang of Phil-Am (Filipino-American) and Filipino street kids who live under a bridge in Olongapo City.
Some of the children live rough

American servicemen returning to their old lives in the US also abandoned thousands of Filipina girlfriends and children, often to lives of terrible poverty.

Now the black, Hispanic and Caucasian-looking boys and girls they left behind have grown up.

Few of the so-called Phil-Ams in Olongapo have much hope of a future. In the Philippines it is hard for them to fit in because of their foreign blood. Many never recovered from the devastating childhood blow of being abandoned by their fathers.

Some of the boys live wild on the streets of Olongapo City next to the former navy base, stealing and begging to survive in street gangs.

The girls are at risk from the city's rapacious sex trade because of their prized foreign looks.

The world has shrunk since 1992, however.

Emmanuel Drewery
Emmanuel Drewery dreams of one day visiting the US

Now a generation of lost boys and girls is turning to the internet to track down the fathers who sailed away without leaving a forwarding address.

After a decade or more of wondering, hundreds of Phil-Am teenagers who can summon up the courage to use address-finding search engines have been able to locate their fathers, sometimes within a few minutes of sitting down at a computer terminal.

The results of such quests have rarely been happy.

Irish priest Father Shay Cullen, who has pitted himself against the US Navy for the rights of Subic's lost children, said most of the fathers simply did not want to know.

He said: "The handful of fathers who have come out here have known they are dying. Their last wish is to find the son or daughter they left behind. It's always been too late.

"One came to me saying he was looking for Jody, who used to hang out at the Blue Dragon Club 30 years ago."

Father Shay, who founded children's organisation Preda to help children abused in the city's sex trade, has helped hundreds use the internet to track down their fathers.

But of the dozens of letters sent to America, only one has been answered.

"It can be really traumatic for these kids. I've seen them at the internet when their father's address comes up and they sit there paralysed," he said.

"Some write to their fathers but after all the research we have done, there have hardly been any letters back from America. You don't know what goes through the young peoples' minds - are they angry, disturbed, curious?

"Few of them want to go to America. They just want contact with their fathers."

Some of the saddest children live under a bridge in Olongapo City which is regularly raided by police. Last time several children were dragged off to jail.

Jason, 21, shrugged when asked about his Mexican-American father. "I would like to meet him. But I don't know his name and I've never tried to find him," he said.

Stephanie Fragata, who said he was 19 but looked younger, said he could remember his father, whose name was Clarke.

"I hate him and I would never want to see him," he said.

Both boys are addicted to glue-sniffing.

Only one youngster has revived contact with his father.

Emmanuel Drewery, 18, found Carl James Drewery in a nursing home in Mississippi, 10 years after the former sailor walked out on Emmanuel and his mother.
Jason (red shirt), son of a Mexican serviceman, a Filipino friend, and Stephanie Fragata, (bottom of picture), also the son of a serviceman
Stephanie Fragata (bottom) says he hates his father

Happily, Emmanuel has discovered a half-sister and now he dreams of one day visiting the United States .

Father Shay accuses the US Navy of indifference to the plight of the children.

Unlike the offspring of liaisons with Vietnamese women who were allowed into America as refugees from communism, he says the Filipino children have received hardly any help, despite grinding poverty.

"We fought and lost a court case where the navy argued these children were the product of prostitution, but that's simply not true - most of the women were common-law wives," he said.

"The fathers abandoned them. The mothers by and large did a good job of bringing them up. It's tough for these kids, but some of them have turned out fantastic."

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