News: Filipino schoolchildren, community one step closer to nature’s most valued resource – water
Story by Capt. Staci Reidinger
PUERTO PRINCESA, Palawan, Republic of the Philippines – Philippine and U.S. military members are working balikatan, "shoulder to shoulder," during Exercise Balikatan 2012 to provide humanitarian civic assistance across the island of Palawan. BK12 is an annual bilateral training exercise that builds the interoperability between Philippine and U.S. military members through joint planning, contingency, humanitarian and disaster relief operations.
In the lush tropical mountains of central Palawan province, schoolchildren, barangay officials and the local community await the completion of new classrooms at Buena Vista Elementary School but are also keenly anticipating the use of a new water distribution system that will benefit hundreds of families seeking a reliable water source.
Both of these projects are being developed through the support of Philippine and U.S. military members as a part of the Combined Joint Civil-Military Operations Task Force, which is providing humanitarian civic assistance projects during Exercise Balikatan 2012.
As a part of the CJCMOTF, Philippine and U.S. Navy Seabees are learning from each other and building lasting relationships while constructing school classrooms and in this case, an improved method for delivering water to the local Buena Vista community.
Philippine Navy Seabee Petty Officer 1st Class Erwin Mondragon, a steel worker assigned to 3rd Naval Construction Battalion and native of Barangay San Miguel, truly understands the impact these projects can have on rural communities. Having served with the Philippine Seabees for more than nine years and now working with Exercise Balikatan for the fifth time, Mondragon said that he’s noticed very little change in the strong relationship that the Philippine and U.S. Navy share.
“Each year we come together to build schools, we also are teaching each other how to use each other’s tools, share each other’s knowledge and exchange everything with each other to share for our combined benefit," said Mondragon.
The water improvement project being installed now is a top priority for the local community who depend on distant streams for their daily water supply.
U.S. Navy Seabee Petty Officer 3rd Class Ethan Merrill, a utilitiesman assigned to Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 40, based in Naval Base Ventura County, Port Hueneme, is working alongside Mondragon to complete this water improvement project by the end of the month and sees the value in helping the community have closer access to larger quantities of water.
“The current pipes that bring water from a stream to the school site run over a mile away and are not always reliable when there is a shortage of rain or if there is a need to quickly turn off the water supply during heavy rainfall," said Merrill. “These four new 1,000 gallon tanks will provide the surrounding community with a more dependable water source, a more efficient way to regulate the stream water while providing stronger water pressure for cooking, cleaning and bathing. It will also offer four hose bibs that will allow more families to fill up their buckets and jugs to get their daily water supply," added Merrill.
Mondragon pointed out that they are working closely with a local barangay maintenance worker to teach him and other how to use the new water tanks, how to make repairs and how to assist the community with learning how the system operates.
“We have a barangay maintenance guy who will learn how to use the new tanks and the new shut off valve that is now only a few feet away from the tanks instead of a mile away to the reservoir," said Mondragon.
Both Merrill and Mondragon, working balikatan, “shoulder to shoulder,” have high hopes that once the water tanks are functional, the newly trained barangay maintenance worker can further develop a line of pipes that can run directly to a few locations in the community. They also stated that a few additional 250-gallon tanks are being installed at a nearby high school to collect rain water from the gutters, enabling the school to improve the water pressure in their comfort rooms.
BK12 is an annual bilateral training exercise that builds a lasting partnership between the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the U.S. military through joint planning, contingency operations, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations. In its 28th iteration, BK12 is broken into three events: humanitarian civic assistance projects; a major natural disaster command post exercise and several AFP and U.S. field training activities.
This work, Filipino schoolchildren, community one step closer to nature’s most valued resource – water, by CPT Staci Reidinger, identified by DVIDS, is free of known copyright restrictions under U.S. copyright law.