Humanitarian mission planned for Kalayaan islands

By Alexis Romero, The Philippine Star

Posted at Jun 18 2014 03:21 AM | Updated as of Jun 18 2014 11:21 AM

MANILA, Philippines - Amid rising tensions in the West Philippine Sea, a group of civilians and soldiers will hold a humanitarian mission in the Kalayaan Island Group next month, a military official said yesterday.

The mission aims to provide assistance to local residents and to support troops securing the country’s remote islands, Lt. Col. Harold Cabunoc, chief of the Armed Forces 7th Relations Group, said.

“They are planning to conduct a humanitarian mission in the Kalayaan Island Group and they are now in the process of gathering cash and in kind donations from different people and organizations around the world,” Cabunoc told The STAR. “Among the recipients of the project are our own soldiers.”

Cabunoc declined to say when the activity would be held, citing security reasons.

The military needs to get the approval of the defense department before pushing through with the mission, he said.

“The donors are enthusiastic and willing to provide assistance,” Cabunoc said. “They also want to show appreciation to soldiers who are defending our territory.”

The humanitarian mission will be conducted by a group called Operation Freedomland, the local government of Kalayaan and the military.

Among the beneficiaries of the donations are the Marines stationed in BRP Sierra Madre, the grounded ship that serves as a Philippine detachment in Ayungin Shoal off Palawan.

Cabunoc said the mission was not meant to create tension among claimants in the West Philippine Sea, particularly China.

“It’s for humanitarian reasons. It’s not an act of war. It’s not offensive. It’s not a violation of the UNCLOS (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea) and the Declaration of the Code of Conduct,” he said.

Kalayaan is a fifth class municipality in Palawan. It is located in Pag-asa, the second largest island in the disputed Spratlys archipelago.

The Philippines has built a town hall, a 1.3-kilometer airstrip, a naval station, a health center and a kindergarten school in the island.

The underdeveloped Kalayaan town needs medicine, food and educational materials for its school children, Cabunoc said.

Donors can send a message to the Facebook pages “Major Harold Magallanes Cabunoc” and “Kawal Pinoy.” They can also call the Armed Forces 7th Civil Relations Group at 937-9437.

Diplomatic solution

Despite China’s rejection for a moratorium on the construction of a military base in the disputed South China Sea, the Philippine government will continue to pursue the diplomatic and peaceful tack on the issue.

“We prefer to focus on diplomatic, political and legal options that lead the way toward the peaceful settlement of disputes,” Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. of the Presidential Communications Operations Office said.

He issued the statement when asked whether Manila will hold dialogues with allies Vietnam and the US, even as Beijing refused to participate in the talks, saying these countries have been making provocations in the disputed waters. – With Delon Porcalla