US rescue team amazed by 'barangay system' in Yolanda mission

By Don Tagala, ABS-CBN North America Bureau

Posted at Mar 04 2014 01:49 PM | Updated as of Mar 04 2014 09:55 PM

NEW YORK CITY – Team Rubicon is a unique group of specialized US military veterans. Many of them have returned home after fighting 10 years of war in Iraq or Afghanistan, but with a renewed sense of purpose to save lives in times of disaster.

One of them is Filipino-American Lourdes Tiglao. A native of Mandaluyong City in the Philippines, US Air Force veteran Tiglao was part of Operation: Seabird – a group of first responders who facilitated search, rescue, and disaster relief efforts within 48 hours after Typhoon Yolanda pummeled the Philippines last November.

Team Rubicon provided food and water, treated more than a thousand typhoon survivors, and helped rebuild parts of the typhoon-ravaged areas.

“We train in the US when community service. We do a lot of off-site training in order to hone our skills so that when a disaster actually happens we already know what to do," Tiglao said.

But what stood out and became helpful in their operation was the organizational structure known only in the Philippines – the Barangay system – the smallest administrative division in the country almost equivalent to the ward system in the US.

Tiglao said, "They really had a good emergency system within the barangay. Their hierarchy of organizational structure, it never went down. In a disaster, that is one of the first things that break down.”

“The people knew who to go to and how to get the relief that they needed,” US Army Veteran Alana Duffy said. “Because of the way that barangays work, that sense of community I think that we could develop more here in the United States. So when a disaster hits, people know where to go and respond the best way for their families.”

US Marines, Colonel Christopher Starling said the success of the operation was made possible by the close cooperation between the Philippine and the US military, thanks to the joint military exercises like the Balikatan trainings.

"When Typhoon Haiyan occurred we already have that key linkages to the Philippine military," Starling said. "We have personal relationships at the senior level that makes it very simple to respond. We have equipment, we know what the road networks are. We know the infrastructure. Balikatan prepared us to respond for something like a typhoon."

Philippine Ambassador to the US, Jose Cuisia Jr. added, "The Balikatan paid off, because the collaboration was seamless and they were telling us that without those exercises they could not have performed as well as they did.”