Complicating matters, all the publicity surrounding ABMC taking over operations at the cemetery has made it harder for Gilbert to get money from donors for the cemetery’s upkeep.
“The assumption is they’ve done it, so I go to raise money and people say, ‘Well, why am I giving you money to maintain the cemetery, ABMC is doing it?’” Gilbert said.
AMBC spokesman Tim Nosal said the commission is ready to fulfill its obligation to restore and maintain the cemetery as soon as the U.S. and Philippine governments reach the required agreement.
“That territory was ceded back to the government of the Philippines when the Department of Defense left, back in 1992,” Nosal said. “The agreement basically needs to be that the government of the Philippines says, ‘Yes, the U.S. government can go ahead and work this land.’”
Negotiations with the Philippine government are being conducted by the State Department, he said.
Sen. Kelly Ayotte, who introduced a bill last year to have the AMBC assume responsibility for the cemetery, wrote an Aug. 2 letter to Secretary of State John Kerry asking the State Department to complete its agreement with the Philippines.
“Clark Veterans Cemetery is sacred ground and we have a solemn duty as a nation to ensure that the brave Americans buried there have the dignified and well maintained final resting place that they deserve,” Ayotte wrote.
Kerry will respond to Ayotte’s note “shortly,” a department official said.
“The Secretary believes that the courageous Americans buried at Clark Veterans Cemetery deserve a dignified and well-maintained resting place,” the official said in an email. “To ensure that this is the case, the U.S. and Philippine governments are continuing discussions on an agreement that would enable the American Battle Monuments Commission to restore, maintain and operate the cemetery.”