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Obama OKs $5m for vets' cemetery in Philippines

LOS ANGELES  -- U.S. President Barack Obama has signed a bill restoring the Clark Veterans Cemetery, where 650 Philippine Scouts and thousands of American war veterans are buried.

The cemetery, located in the former Clark Air Base in Pampanga, will be restored and maintained by the Virginia-based American Battle Monuments Commission, which maintains 24 other overseas military cemeteries and several memorials, monuments and markers honoring US war veterans.

"Clark Veterans Cemetery is sacred ground, and the brave Americans who are buried there deserve a dignified and well-maintained final resting place," said bill sponsor Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) in a press statement.

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"I'm so pleased that President Obama signed this bill into law, which will ensure that our country keeps its promise to forever honor these heroes," he said.

With the eruption of Mount Pinatubo and the departure of the United States from Clark, the Clark Veterans Cemetery was left to the care of volunteers who relied on donations to maintain the grounds. There has not been enough money to repair the damage wrought by Pinatubo and remove the volcanic ash that still covers many grave markers.

Responsibility

Currently, maintenance is provided by VFW Post 285, a volunteer effort that is commendable but limited, according to the Clark Veterans Cemetery Restoration Association (CVCRA). The nonprofit organization worked hard to get the US government to take responsibility for the cemetery.

The CVCRA said the cemetery had not been maintained "to the standards befitting those veterans who sacrificed and served their country."

The new law, cosponsored by Sen. Ayotte and Sen. Mark Begich (D-Alaska) and signed by President Obama on Thursday (Friday in Manila), appropriated $5 million (about P200 million) for the cemetery's restoration.

The remains of 8,600 individuals are buried in the cemetery, according to the CVCRA. The earliest recorded burial was that of Pvt. Santiago Belona, a Philippine Scout who served in the US Army and died on Jan. 13, 1900.

In addition to the 650 Philippine Scouts, there are thousands of war veterans who served in every American conflict since the Spanish-American War, including the Philippine-American War, World War I, World War II, Korean War, Vietnam War and Iraq War. There are also over 2,100 unknowns buried at the cemetery, the CVCRA said.

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