MANILA, Philippines -- President Fidel Ramos said Monday the United States has an obligation to help thousands of illegitimate children sired by U.S. servicemen even after Washington pulls out of its last military base in the Philippines.
The United States vacates Subic Bay Naval Station, 50 miles west of Manila, Tuesday marking the end of nearly a century of U.S. military presence in its former colony.
But thousands of brown-haired or black-skinned children, called Amerasians, would be left behind.
'This is a problem that should be jointly addressed by the Philippine government and the United States government,' Ramos said in his weekly news conference.
'On the part of the Philippine government, we intend to do justice to these children and and treat them as our very own,' he said.
'But at the same time I feel that there is a corresponding obligation on the part of the fathers who are American citizens as well as institutional obligation on the part of the unit to which these American service people belong.'
Ramos said the withdrawal of the last U.S. troops from Philippine soil 'does not mean the end of that obligation,' adding that Manila and Washington would continue to discuss the issue.
The number of mixed-race children in the Philippines is not known, but some put it at between 23,000 to 50,000 nationwide.
Most of them live in Olongapo outside Subic and nearby Angeles adjacent to the giant Clark Air Base, which was turned over to Manila last year.
Both cities were famous for their bars and prostitutes which catered to U.S. sailors.
Many Amerasians are living in poverty, dreaming of becoming U.S. citizens one day. The also complain of discrimination and are often taunted by their playmates.
A 1982 U.S. law allows children of American servicemen born in Vietnam, South Korea, Thailand, Laos and Cambodia to emigrate and become U.S. citizens, but excluded those from the Philippines.
U.S. officials said this was because Filipino Amerasians do not suffer the same stigma as their counterparts in other Asian countries.
Ramos said that despite the pullout, both nations are still bound by a 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty and a long history of alliance tested during World War II.
'In the area of trade, commerce, business and investment, we hope to be able to forge even stronger ties with the United States, inasmuch as that's the name of the game now, through trade, not aid,' he added.