Military camp hosts 'Balikatan'

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Sunday, May 4, 2014

CEBU -- A Balikatan military exercise that focuses on humanitarian assistance and disaster training opened last Friday at the Central Command (Centcom) following the arrival of US troops in Cebu.

Navy Lt. Jim Alagao, Centcom spokesperson, said the two-week exercise is crucial to them, following two major calamities that struck the Visayas last year.

“It is very timely as search-and-rescue operation has become one of our primary roles after typhoons and earthquakes hit the Visayas,” he told Sun.Star Cebu.


At least 25 military personnel of the Hawaii National Guard started training on Saturday 151 military and civilian participants from Cebu and Bohol as part of the Philippines-US Balikatan Urban Search and Rescue Exercises 2014.

Balikatan exercise
THE TOOLS AND TRAINING OF EMERGENCY HEROES. Soldiers and civilian rescue volunteers gather around some equipment they’ll use in rescue operation drills, as part of the Philippines-US Balikatan Urban Search and Rescue Exercises 2014 in the military’s Central Command in Cebu City. (Sun.Star/Allan Defensor)

The training, Alagao said, includes rope-rescue operations, lifting and hauling, shoring and casualty extraction.

‘Shoulder to shoulder’

Civilian rescue groups from the Philippine Red Cross, Bohol’s Tarsier (Telephone and Radio System Integrated Emergency Response) 117 Team, and the Emergency Response Unit Foundation Cebu are among the participants.

“Balikatan is the most evident manifestation of a shared commitment between the Philippines and the US Armed Forces to move and act shoulder-to-shoulder, or balikatan, in our local language for stability, security and development,” said Brig. Gen. Romeo Labrador, Centcom’s deputy commander, during the ceremony that welcomed the US troops last Friday at Camp Lapu-Lapu.

Labador, in his message, said Balikatan will include the sharing of each participant’s expertise and experiences in dealing with natural disasters and “draw strategies on how to address them.”

“The joint and combined training we conducted in the past balikatan exercises, coupled with the resiliency of us Filipinos and the selfless commitment of foreign support, particularly from the US, helped us overcome overwhelming challenges left by the recent disasters,” he said.

Staff Sgt. Cory Ito, an expert on rope rescue operations, told reporters they are looking forward to hearing the experiences of rescue teams that responded to the 7.2-magnitude earthquake last October 15 and Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) that devastated the Visayas on November 8, 2013.

Survival skills

“We want to know what happened and what they went through, mentally or physically,” he said.

In a separate interview, Staff Sgt. Jimmy Evangelista said he is very excited to work with Filipino participants and to show them what they know.

“They’re very absorbing. Everything we show them they pick up very quickly. They’re also very resourceful,” he said of the Filipino participants.

Troops assigned in Leyte province will also conduct humanitarian civic assistance activities, which include providing free health care services in Tacloban City.

The earthquake that hit Bohol and Cebu left more than 200 dead and brought down historic churches in Bohol; it also damaged the belfry of the Basilica del Sto. Niño in Cebu and forced authorities to stop using the heavily damaged Cebu City Medical Center and the Palace of Justice.

Typhoon Yolanda, which followed less than a month later, killed more than 6,200 and damaged or wrecked nearly P40-billion worth of roads, municipal halls, and other public infrastructure, as well as crops. The typhoon drove some four million persons all over the Visayas away from their homes. (DSM)

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on May 04, 2014.

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