USNS Mercy: “shoulder-to-shoulder” military exercise on HADR underway in Albay

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Press Briefing on Pacific Partnership held last June 24. Salceda's Facebook Photo
Press Briefing on Pacific Partnership held last June 24. Salceda’s Facebook Photo

By Reynard Magtoto

LEGAZPI CITY, 26June2016 (BicolToday.com)—The world’s largest hospital ship will arrive in Legazpi City, monday, to mark multinational humanitarian disaster-response assistance exercises that will run until July 11 in Albay under the Philippine-US Mutual Defense Treaty of the Pacific Partnership (PP) 2016.

Albay People’s Organization (APO) questioned the presence of US military forces and even the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) in its multinational humanitarian disaster-response assistance exercises in the province.

“Why the military forces are the one constructing the building, where’s the employees of Department of Public Works and Highways?” APO spokesperson Fred Mansos asked BicolToday.com emphasizing on the utilization of government facilities and local stakeholders for the said activity. “Is the job of these armies is to conduct medical missions, where are the local doctors and health workers?

Since last month before they become top of the news here, military presence were already visible in remote barangays according to Mansos.

“They are all around the area, there is group constructing rooms while the rest are roaming around for surveillance,” said Mansos who interviewed residents in Brgy. Kinawitan, Daraga.

Seventh in 9 years for Albay to host Balikatan, Pacific Angels and other Engineering Civic Action Programs (ENCAPs) and Medical Civic Action Projects (MEDCAPs) of United States Pacific Command (USPACOM, this [PP16) is most unique according to 2nd District Representative – Elect Joey Sarte Salceda.

Albay will be hosting a new round of joint humanitarian partnership program involving some 1,000 troops from the US Pacific Fleet and Australian Navy, among others, and the world’s largest hospital ship, the USNS Mercy.

To highlight “shoulder-to-shoulder” military exercise on HADR

According to Lt. Gen. Toolan, commander of U.S. Marine Corps Forces, Pacific and Balikatan 2016 U.S. exercise director, this year have a single scenario that focuses on training and enhancing the capabilities of AFP, U.S. and Australian armed forces to provide relief and assistance in the event of natural disasters and other crises that endanger public health and safety. This was  Lt. Gen. Toolan’s opening remarks during the opening ceremony of Balikatan 2016 and was later posted on U.S. Marine Corps Forces, Pacific website.

According to Capt. Tom Williams, U.S. Navy, PP16 mission commander, Partner nations, who invited PP16 to visit, they have worked side-by-side with a dozen partner nations to strengthen mutual understanding and partnerships in the region.

Mansos said that MDT, Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), and Enhance Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) are one sided agreements signed by the country in line with the US military pivot to Asia.

“They deceive Albayanos. Pacific Partnership is still a Balikatan exercises,” Mansos said.”Pacific will just bring partner nations together to prepare for US’ ‘war of aggression’.”

PP’s ship USNS Mercy proceed in Albay province after completing two weeks of subject matter expert exchanges (SMEE) in civil-military disaster response preparedness, cooperative health engagements (CHE) and engineering projects in Timor-Leste last June 21.

World largest hospital ship USNS Mercy (T-AH 19) will be in Legazpi City. ALbay-Pacific Partnership 2016 Facebook Photo
World largest hospital ship USNS Mercy (T-AH 19) will be in Legazpi City. ALbay-Pacific Partnership 2016 Facebook Photo

USNS Mercy’s operation in Albay

Hospital ship USNS Mercy (T-AH 19) is a 894-feet-long and is outfitted to provide mobile acute and surgical medical services in disaster or humanitarian relief efforts.

Majority of the patients will be treated aboard the USS Mercy ship hospital,”Bernardo Alejandro, Office of Civil Defense regional director said benefiting about selected 3, 000 patients.

While the ship is anchored in Albay, nursing skills workshop and surgeries would be done on-board the USNS Mercy and there will be guided tours of the hospital ship.

Rather than be dependent on the aid of foreign military, Mansos explained that the Local Government of Albay must rely on the skills and appropriate service of its local workers and its facilities. “Health centers must be empowered and more support to our nurses,” he said being dismayed on the veto of salary increase for nurses.

Other HADR engagements

US will work with Filipino soldiers and Philippines government partners in Albay province to learn disaster management approach during the course of the PP.

However to APO, they believe US is in search for a military outpost in Bicol to maintain its dominant presence in the region. “Take note also that human rights violations, prostitution, and other violent crimes are rampant because the main perpetuators are soldiers,” Mansos added.

Under the Mutual Defense Treaty of 1951, US and Philippines reaffirmed their faith in the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations and strengthen their present efforts for collective defense for the preservation of peace and security pending the development of a more comprehensive system of regional security in the Pacific area.

Albay was chosen for the mission stop not only for its facilities, including a seaport, and the presence of a naval command but also because of its label as United Nation’s global model in climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction.

As early as May 28 according to Philippine Information Agency (PIA), the US’ engineering and construction battalion have already begun their task of constructing facilities for local elementary schools in Albay. This include Mabini Elementary School and Kinawitan Elementary School in Municipality of Daraga; and Comun Elementary School in Municipality of Camalig.

However, according to the residents of Brgy. Kinawitan, Daraga, the constructions of the classrooms in the elementary school already started last May 15, during which American soldiers were already visible in their area.

Subject Matter Expert Exchanges (SMEE) and activities on medical development including discussions concerning infection control, epidemiology, nursing, and emergency response will be hosted by Bicol Regional Training and Teaching Hospital (BRTTH) in Legazpi City, Ziga Memorial Hospital in Tabaco City, Josephina Belmonte Duran Memorial District Hospital (JBDMH) in Ligao City and the Public Office.

Dental symposium is scheduled at Ago Medical and Educational Center on July 10 and a dental SMEE on-board the USNS Mercy afterwards. [BicolToday.com]

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