MANILA - The Philippines will deploy a team of disaster response specialists and healthcare workers after a magnitude 7.8 earthquake struck Turkey and Syria on Monday.
Officials immediately mobilized an 85-person response team following the directive of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.
The Turkish Embassy in Manila earlier sought assistance in the form of emergency medical and urban research and rescue teams.
“We have organized a group of about 85 personnel together with some goods. Ang hinahanap sa atin ay mga blanket, mga winter clothing dahil syempre, ‘yung mga nasiraan ng bahay sa Turkey ay wala na silang tirahan,” Marcos told reporters at a Bureau of Internal Revenue event at the Philippine International Convention Center.
Government officials conducted a readiness inspection of the response team at Camp Aguinaldo on Tuesday afternoon.
Thirty-three personnel from the Armed Forces of the Philippines will join the Philippine humanitarian contingent to Turkey. The team is composed of 21 Philippine Army personnel and 12 Philippine Air Force personnel.
Some of the members of the rescue team were sent for relief mission in Leyte during the onslaught of Typhoon Odette last year.
“’Yung iba first time nila makalabas ng bansa, they have been deployed in other parts of the country and the biggest deployment was last year during Typhoon Odette. I was just telling them na huwag kayong kabahan kung lalabas kayo ng bansa, also preparing them kasi malamig ang bansa na pupuntahan nila,” AFP chief of staff General Andres Centino told reporters. “They're soldiers. They are ready and they can secure themselves.”
Centino said appropriate clothing and search and rescue equipment were provided to the response team to help them perform their mission effectively.
The Department of Health will also send 31 healthcare workers to help in relief efforts.
DOH officer-in-charge Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said the team includes of 7 doctors, 8 nurses, 2 medical technologists and 2 pharmacists. The rest are logistical and administrative officers.
“Lahat ng kailangan ay dala namin. We have 16 tons of equipment, supplies and medicines. Lahat ng gamot na pangangailangan dahil we are the medical responders. Sa buong contingent ng Pilipinas, kami ang sa medical response… up to the point na pwede tayong mag-intubate on site. Meron tayong portable ventilators na dala rin,” Vergeire said.
She added: “Ang aming team ay sanay na sanay kasi marami tayong disasters na nirerespondehan dito sa ating bansa. International exposure such as this, this is the first time also, but what I can tell you: They are adequately trained, accredited sila sa WHO certification natin. This will also provide us with the experience and the learnings, actually.”
The Metropolitan Manila Development Authority will likewise send a contingent of 12 rescuers to assist in the search and rescue operations in Turkey.
MMDA Chairman Romando Artes said their team is well-trained and has an extensive experience in disaster response, having been deployed in rescue and retrieval operations in Pampanga, which was hit by a strong quake in 2019, as well as in Nepal, which was struck by a magnitude 7.6 earthquake in 2015.
“Ito pong 12-man team natin ay beterano ng Nepal and sila rin ang nakarescue noong may gumuhong supermarket sa Pampanga,” Artes said.
“Meron tayong dalang equipment tulad ng life locator, kung saan kahit 45 feet ang lalim ng rubble ay nadedetect kung may tao o object na gumagalaw. Tutulong tayo sa paghahanap at hopefully makasave tayo ng victims sa Turkey,” he added.
Also joining the Philippine contingent are eight fire rescuers from the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority.
Defense Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr. said they have coordinated with the Philippines’ defense attache in Turkey to ensure the safety of the response team.
"Inaayos natin ‘yung mga winter clothing, tumawag tayo kay Mayor Magalong at ngayon ay magpo-produce tayo ng 10,000 blankets na makakapal tsaka meron tayong mga gloves at mga bonnets, pati na rin mga damit para magamit natin at maibigay natin sa mga nangangailangan,” he said.
Galvez also conveyed his condolences and sympathies to Turkey and Syria.
"We know that the Turkish government is very kind to us—ang laki ng naitulong nila sa Bangsamoro, ang laki ng humanitarian assistance nila sa atin, especially sa COVID-19 pandemic, malaki ang tulong sa vaccines, tsaka very close ally natin ang Turkey,” the defense official said.
The 85-member group is expected to leave for Turkey by Wednesday night. They will be transported by Turkish Airlines at no cost.
CHALLENGE IN RESCUE EFFORTS
Major Erwen Diploma of the Urban Search and Rescue Team of the Philippine Air Force will lead the contingent from the AFP.
Diploma told the media, aside from the aftershocks, freezing weather will be a challenge in their rescue efforts.
“We’re expecting for a sub-zero climate, we are not used to it, but with proper planning and preparation, we hope to perform our mandated duty smoothly, successfully and safely,” he said.
“For me, personally, this will be my first foreign deployment as part of the USAR team. I feel privileged, especially representing our country. It will also show that our country… that we are willing to help foreign countries in need of our services for collapsed structure SAR operations,” he added.
Abraham Buna, head of the MMDA’s Urban Search and Rescue Team, agrees.
“’Yung weather conditions, nabrief kami. Hindi ito pwede itong aming working clothes. It requires pangmalamigan talaga,” he said. “Nagprovide naman si chairman sa amin, nareceive namin today ang PPEs namin.”
Buna, a nurse by profession and a rescuer for 10 years, is part of the 7-man team the MMDA sent to help in rescue operations during the April 2015 Nepal earthquake.
“Sa Nepal, limited ang number ng tao. Seven-man team kami. ‘Yung mga equipment namin pagdating sa collapsed structure SAR ay mabibigat ‘yan, maraming components at accessories, tsaka doon kasi, commercial flight ang way of transport namin. Pag commercial flight, andaming bawal, so ang capacity ng team ay nabawasan, hindi namin nadala ang ibang kailangan. ‘Yun ang unang challenge,” he explained.
Having more people on their team now would mean being able to carry heavy but necessary equipment and gear. With this, Buna hopes they’d be able to do their operations more effectively and safely.
“Sa tingin namin ang worst case scenario na ini-expect namin ay sa collapsed structure SAR. Dito sa Pilipinas, huwag naman sana mangyari. Pag nagrespond kami pagdating sa collapsed structure, mangilan-ngilan lang ang buildings. Marami kami. E sa sitwasyon sa Turkiye, multistorey building at marami, so it requires talaga ang full capacity ng equipment madala namin, tsaka ang number of personnel. Ito sakto na ito kasi combined naman kami, hindi naman by agency,” the rescuer said.
Disaster agencies in Turkey and Syria said the massive 7.8-magnitude earthquake killed more than 5,000 people and destroyed several thousand buildings, according to a report by the Agence France-Presse.
The Philippines’ response team is expected to stay in Turkey for two weeks or longer.