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AFP, US Marines seek out aid answers from Filipinos

9 Oct 2009 | Lance Cpl. Stefanie C. Pupkiewicz

The Armed Forces of the Philippines and U.S. Marines with the III Marine Expeditionary Force have been coordinating aid to relieve the suffering of the Filipino people for over a week in the wake of the destruction  left behind by Typhoon Katsana. The continuation of these combined efforts is being refined to the meet the needs of the people they are helping.

A survey team made up of Philippine and U.S. military representatives traveled to barangays, or villages, in the southern area of Muntinlupa in Manila where no current relief operations are underway to determine the needs of the people there before traveling to Marikina City Hall to meet with local government officials to determine the impact of current relief operations there and the potential for future operations with the area.

One of the borders of Muntinlupa is Laguna de Bay, the largest landlocked body of water on the island. Laguna de Bay was filled with not only the additional rainfall of the typhoon but it is also full of the mud, silt and runoff from the mountains that normally drain into the body of water, according to Maj. Resty Tablico, the operations officer for the 51st Engineer Brigade of the Philippine Army. It is possible that this is the reason that the water has not drained from the border with the lack and the flood waters are still standing.

These flooded streets, homes and businesses were the first to be looked at for need by the site survey team.

The mission of the site survey is to discover what problems the people in these flood-stricken areas are facing and what can be done to relieve their suffering, according to 1st Lt. Joshua McIlvoy, the transportation officer for the humanitarian assistance operation, III Marine Expeditionary Force.

The people in this barangay are doing well under the current conditions, Tablico said after speaking to the barangay leader of Putatan. Their only needs are medical because of the health implications of standing water: illness, mosquitoes and foot problems from the sodden terrain.

Additionally, McIlvoy said, military forces could easily reach the flooded areas to provide food and water relief aid.

 A concern of the team was the status of people in the evacuation shelters, so they traveled to one of the largest in the area: Muntinlupa Elementary School.

Muntinlupa Elementary School is housing 452 families made up 1,960 individuals, according to Angelita Pelagio, the principal of MES. Muntinlupa is the only elementary school in the area that is not flooded at the moment.

“Some of the evacuees are sick (and) require a doctor,” said Edison C. Enerlas, the chairman of the MES Risk Reduction Task Force.

“What we need (is) bottled water and medicine,” said Charito A. Cabalza, a social welfare aide with the City Social Welfare Department in Muntinlupa.

This information, can only be gathered by asking the people who are affected, said Tablico. “(With this information we can) find out what we are going to do.”

The team also traveled to Marikina, the site mutually agreed upon by Philippine and U.S. authorities was the hardest hit by the floods, to speak with city officials and to coordinate with them for further actions in the region since the military forces are already working to clean up an area in the southern part of the city.

“It’s a joint venture between the U.S. and the Philippine military,” said Master Gunnery Sgt.  Albert Fowler, the engineer chief for the III Marine Expeditionary Brigade, III MEF. But, both forces are interested in coordinating with the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority so that the militaries can prioritize and work in conjunction with the government.

“The priority is to clear the area of debris,” said Ramon J. Santiago, the director of public safety and special operations for the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority. “By removing the debris it will give the people a change of focus and a sense of hope.”

Bayani Fernando, the chairman of the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority, to the U.S. and Philippine forces, echoed the sentiments of Santiago by adding, “Your presence will really add some energy.”

The meeting adjourned with the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority having a better understanding of the joint capabilities of the Philippine and U.S. forces, Santiago said.

The military gained an understanding of the needs of the city and its people, McIlvoy said.

“It’s a combined effort to mitigate the human suffering from the typhoon, and it’s important to work together in the execution and the planning phases,” McIlvoy added.

31st Marine Expeditionary Unit