RP, US Troops Begin Humanitarian Mission In Muslim South

February 16, 2008 at 3:00 pm | Posted in 1 | Leave a comment
Sulu’s First Lady Nurunisah Tan gives Vitamin A to a child as Dr Farah Omar, the provincial health officer, looks on during a medical mission in the town of Patikul. US and Philippine troops begin a two-week medical and humanitarian mission in Sulu province, Philippine Army commander Maj. Gen. Ruben Rafael says Saturday, February 16, 2008. (Mindanao Examiner Photo)

SULU, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / Feb. 16, 2008) – Filipino and American soldiers have began a joint medical mission on a remote Muslim island off Sulu province ahead of a larger outreach mission in Mindanao in southern Philippines, officials said Saturday.

More two dozen soldiers from both countries and local dentists and dozens of volunteer health workers also helped in the medical mission. More than 1,000 people in Siasi town benefited from the humanitarian mission. It is part of the Balikatan 2008, which means “shoulder-to-shoulder,” an annual Philippine and US bilateral military humanitarian assistance and training activity.
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 other parts of Mindanao where there are large Muslim communities.
The soldiers will also build schools and other community infrastructures in those areas.
“The medical mission in Siasi is successful and is only one of many that Philippine and US troops will undertake together with local health workers and government agencies in the coming days. We are happy with the result of the medical outreach in Siasi,” Philippine Army Major General Ruben Rafael, commander of the Joint Task Force Comet in Sulu province, told the Mindanao Examiner.
He said the town’s mayor Arthur Muksan led local officials in welcoming the soldiers and others involved in the medical mission. “The support of the locals is overwhelming,’ Rafael said.
He said more than 500 people were given medical attention and treatment in Siasi, including some 200 children, many of them suffering from respiratory diseases. They also conducted dental and minor surgeries on some 150 villagers and ophthalmology services to over 150 people in the area.
The two-week joint RP-US humanitarian and medical missions will formally begin on Monday.
Sulu Governor Sakur Tan said the humanitarian mission 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,” he said.
US Ambassador Kristie Kenney said the humanitarian assistance and training activities enable the soldiers to get to know each other, train together, and provide assistance in communities where the need is greatest.
“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,” she said.
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).
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.
It was also in 2002 that the U.S. committed 1,300 troops, mostly Special Forces, to the Philippines under the Joint Special Operations Task Force–Philippines (JSOTF-P) and $93 million in military aid to assist the Arroyo government defeat the local terror group called the Abu Sayyaf in the so-called “Operation Enduring Freedom–Philippines”.
The codename was originally from the “Operation Enduring Freedom”, the official name used by the US government for its military response to the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States. It was previously planned to have been called “Operation Infinite Justice.”
Operation Enduring Freedom–Philippines was later renamed “Oplan: Balikatan”. The US troops provided anti-terrorism trainings and supplied intelligence to the Philippine military from 2002 up to now that led to the killings of many known Abu Sayyaf leaders, including its chieftain Khadaffy Janjalani in 2006.
Philippine and U.S. authorities linked the Abu Sayyaf to the spate of bombings in Mindanao and Sulu, including executions of civilians and kidnappings for ransom to raise fund and support its terror campaign.
The Abu Sayyaf, which means “Bearer of the Sword”, has pillaged small towns, bombed passenger ships, commuter buses, Catholic churches and public places, including malls and department stores and killed hundreds of innocent people since the time it was founded in the early 1990s. (Mindanao Examiner)

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