MANILA, Philippines - The Philippine military on Sunday announced that about 155 officers and men are ready to depart for earthquake-devastated Haiti to reinforce Filipino soldiers and policemen involved in search, rescue and retrieval operations and for future rehabilitation efforts.
Lt. Col. Romeo Brawner Jr., Armed Forces’ public affairs office chief, said they are just awaiting the go-signal from the United Nations which is sanctioning the deployment of a multinational peacekeeping force in the troubled Caribbean country.
“Probably by next week, this contingent is ready to leave . However, we will ask or wait for the approval of the United Nations because they are shouldering the transportation and allowance of this contingent,” said Brawner.
President Arroyo had ordered the Armed Forces of the Philippines to prepare more peacekeepers to Haiti, prompting AFP Chief of Staff Gen. Victor Ibrado to relay the message to the AFP Peacekeeping Operations Center based in Camp O’Donnel in Tarlac province .
The 155 peacekeepers have been training for some time already supposedly to replace the current peacekeeping force by next month when the latter complete their 6-month tour of duty, said the military spokesman.
Brawner said they expect that the visas, passport, other pertinent documents and other requirement like vaccinations of the soldiers would be completed this week.
It was not clear, however, if the present Philippine peacekeeping contingent, headed by Lt. Col. Lope Dagoy, would be recalled next month as scheduled.
Three Filipino soldier-peacekeepers are still trapped inside a fallen building.
Brawner said the group of Dagoy are continuously helping in the search, rescue and retrieval operations for the 3 soldiers as well as 3 Filipino civilians who are also trapped in other buildings - a civilian UN staff, and two supermarket workers.
Brawner said coordination with the contingent in Haiti is continuing. The latest update they got from Dagoy Sunday morning was the deployment of a team of Filipino soldiers to provide security at the Caribbean supermarket where looting is reportedly rampant.
“There is looting (in the area) maybe because they (residents) have no food to eat and that is a supermarket so we provided security aside from our rescue effort,” said Brawner.
Medical team to depart Tuesday
Meanwhile, the medical team assembled by the Philippine government to help in aiding victims of the devastating earthquake in Haiti are set to leave on Tuesday instead of Monday.
The delay was reportedly caused by problems in processing the team’s visas.
Acting Health Secretary Esperanza Cabral said Saturday that the 21-man medical team is composed of trauma surgeons, paediatricians, internists, anaesthesiologists, epidemiologists, nurses and sanitary engineers.
She said the team, led by Dr. Emmanuel Bueno of the East Avenue Medical Center in Manila, is used to dealing with injuries and wounds and would be a big help to the United Nations' team aiding Haitians and foreigners, who got caught by the magnitude 7.0 earthquake last Tuesday.
Cabral said that the expenses of the medical team will be shouldered by the Philippine government.
She also clarified that the team will not focus on Filipino victims in Haiti. She said the team will be supervised by a lead international team that has started providing aid in the country.
The formation of a special medical team is part of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo's promise to help the calamity-stricken country. It was also a response to the United Nations' immediate call for all member-nations to send aid to Haiti. With a report from Ryan Chua, ABS-CBN News