RP, US Troops Ready For Balikatan 2008 In Sulu

February 13, 2008 at 3:44 pm | Posted in 1 | Leave a comment



US troops move equipment in these photos in Sulu province in southern RP where local troops and will join humanitarian and medical missions as part of the Balikatan 2008. And a Muslim woman by the window of her house in Sulu village. (Mindanao Examiner Photo)

SULU, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / Feb. 13, 2008) – Philippine and US troops are to begin joint humanitarian and medical missions in the southern province of Sulu, officials said on Wednesday.

Officials said US equipment arrived on Jolo town and preparations are underway for the two-week medical missions in at least three of 19 towns in the province of more than half a million Muslims.
“We are prepared for the humanitarian activities and US equipment are already here for the joint medical missions that will begin February 18 and ends of March 3,” Major General Ruben Rafael, commander of military forces on the island-province, told the Mindanao Examiner.
The humanitarian missions is part of the Balikatan 2008, which means “shoulder-to-shoulder,” an annual Philippine and US bilateral military humanitarian assistance and training activity.
Sulu Governor Sakur Tan said the humanitarian missions will help many poor families in the province. “These humanitarian undertakings will help a lot of people and we are supporting these efforts and we appreciate what the United States is doing in Sulu,” Tan said in a statement sent to the Mindanao Examiner.
Local mayors are also supporting the joint humanitarian activities, Tan said. “Not only the mayors, but also other sectors in the community and the people themselves. This is a joint project and we will also participate in this good endeavor,” he said.
Dr Farah Omar, the Sulu provincial health officer, said local doctors and nurses will join the medical missions. “Our medical teams are ready and many people will surely benefit from these activities,” she said.
About 600 US troops will work with civilian authorities and the Armed Forces of the Philippines in various humanitarian projects that include free medical, dental and veterinary care in Sulu province and also in central and Western part of Mindanao.
US and Philippine soldiers, many of them construction engineers, will also build schools and other community infrastructures in those areas.
“These humanitarian assistance and training activities enable our soldiers to get to know each other, train together, and provide assistance in communities where the need is greatest,” US Ambassador Kristie Kenney said.
“True to the meaning of the word Balikatan, Americans and Filipinos are shouldering the load together to help the greatest possible number of people in need.”
While US and Filipino troops focus on humanitarian activities in Sulu and Mindanao, others participating in the Balikatan 2008 will conduct combined staff exercises and field training in Luzon and Palawan islands to improve contingency planning and strengthen maritime security.
Balikatan 2008 will be the 24th annual event of its kind held under the auspices of the Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) and Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA).
Late last year, Kenney said the US would fund the rehabilitation of the Sulu airport worth $3 million and another $700,000 for potable water system project in the province under the Alliance for Mindanao Off-grid Renewable Energy (AMORE) program.
Tan said the US projects helped a lot of people in Sulu, one of five provinces under the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao. He said the potable water system will benefit hundreds of people in four villages – Siolakan, Bakud, Latung, and SibakLatud – in the island-municipality of Siasi, where AMORE also set up the communities’ first access to electricity using solar power technology in 2004.
The project consist of an intake structure, four impounding reservoirs confined with 7,335 meters pipeline and with 21 tap stands. The US last year also donated ten units of computers to the Sulu National High School and a road project costing over P27 million, all in Jolo town.
In 2006, the United States Navy hospital ship Mercy had treated more than 60,000 mostly poor Filipino patients in separate medical missions in Sulu, Basilan and Tawi-Tawi islands, including Zamboanga City, as part of the Project Bayanihan. (Mindanao Examiner)

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