News: Relief efforts in Philippines continue
Story by Cpl. Kentavist Brackin
PHILIPPINES - Marines and sailors with III Marine Expeditionary Force and ships carrying the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit are continuing humanitarian aid and disaster relief operations in the Philippines as part of Amphibious Landing Exercise which began Oct. 11.
PHIBLEX is an annual bilateral training with the Armed Forces of the Philippines. The main focus of PHIBLEX is to maintain the interoperability and humanitarian relief capabilities of U.S. and Philippine armed forces in preparation for any future humanitarian crisis or disaster relief efforts in the area.
The U.S. military began working with the Armed Forces of the Philippines Oct. 2 at the request of the Philippine government to provide relief to victims of Tropical Storm Ketsana, which made landfall Sept. 26, and Typhoon Parma, which struck Oct. 3.
Relief efforts prior to PHIBLEX involved more than 40 missions including food drops, medical and dental civil action projects, community relations projects and debris removal, said Master Sgt. Raymundo Muro, the anti terrorism force protection officer with 3rd Marine Expeditionary Brigade.
U.S. and Philippine forces delivered nearly 40,000 food packs and 654 cases of water throughout northern Luzon, a Philippine island hit hard by the storms, said Rebecca Thompson, a U.S. Embassy in Manila spokeswoman.
"More than 9,000 patients were treated at the medical and dental civil action projects that were held in areas of Metro-Manila and in Pangasinan province," said Thompson.
"These community relations projects helped provide more than 3,000 boxes of clothing and personal hygiene items for the Filipino people," Thompson said.
"At the Philippine government's request, a focal point of combined military efforts was removal of debris left from flooding," said 1st Lt. Joshua McIlvoy, a transportation officer with III MEF.
"The joint military effort concentrated on Marikina City, in the Philippine capital Manila. About 1,385 cubic meters of debris was removed to a temporary dumping site and 2,650 meters of roadway cleared," Thompson said.
One engineering civil affairs project continuing during the PHILEX is the repair of San Juan Bano Elementary school in the Philippine village of San Juan Bano. Marine Wing Support Squadron 171, 1st Marine Aircraft Wing, III MEF, began repairing the school Oct. 9.
The elementary school flooded during the recent storms, leaving classrooms unstable and unsafe for students, said Verna Portacio, San Juan Bano Elementary school principal.
"Education is very important to the Filipinos. There are 1,426 students, and they had a building that was flooding and about to cave in so we came to rebuild it," said Gunnery Sgt. Jonathan P. Dowdall, the III MEF Civil Affairs chief.
"They'll have a more comfortable place to learn," said Cpl. Ian Holland, a heavy equipment mechanic with MWSS-171. "It's been bad, and this will be much safer."
"Education is the only tool we have to eliminate poverty, so it is very important to us," Portacio said. "The Marines [are] making sure that it's a good building that will stand up to a typhoon. I think the pupils will get a better education now because they won't have to worry about the typhoons and storms."
The goal is to finish construction by month's end.
"They work all day from seven to seven. The teachers sometimes worry that the Marines are working too hard," Portacio said.
"One of the comforts of the projects is knowing they are helping children," Holland said.
"The best part is... all the kids that are here smiling, there isn't anything better than that." Holland said looking at the children lining a fence watching the Marines work.