TACLOBAN CITY-No, the raging territorial dispute involving the Philippines and China has nothing to do with their presence in the country.
But yes, they are in the country to help the Filipinos, particularly residents of this city, cope up with the aftermath of Super Typhoon Yolanda that pummeled Tacloban eight months ago.
This was the message underscore by the members of the Pacific Partnership 2014 during a press conference Saturday afternoon held at the Baluarte Beach Resort, a Marcos property where Tacloban City Mayor Alfred Romualdez almost lost his life after he was trapped inside the building when a storm surge hit the place.
As part of the Pacific Partnership 2014 or PP14, close to 300 soldiers and medical crew from the United States, Japan, Australia and Malaysia are in Tacloban to conduct various activities aim to help the city residents, still grappling from the aftermath of Yolanda.
“The area (where the PP14 is being held) is very far away from the South China Sea. It’s not about anyone’s country but the region’s capability to build its own response capability during a disaster,” said Real Admiral Mark Montgomery of the United States.
In fact, he said, any country is welcome to join the now annual Pacific Partnership. The Philippines and Japan is engaging China in territorial disputes.
The Philippines and China claims ownership of the Spratly Islands while both Japan and China claims the Sensaku Islands.
Montgomery said that the Pacific Partnership was born when a massive tsunami disaster hit in Aceh, Indonesia in 2004 and a year later, undertaken when a killer cyclone hit Louisiana in the US.
The members of the PP14- two Malaysians, ten Australians, 150 Japanese, and 130 Americans-arrived in the city July 4 on board the 8,900 tonnes Japanese ship Kunisake docked at the San Pedro Bay.
True to form, the group is here in Tacloban to conduct a “broad spectrum” of activities aim to help the victims of Yolanda. They started their activities on July 5 and is to end on July 18, 2014.
Tacloban is considered the Ground Zero of the world’s strongest typhoon on record to make landfall on November 8, 2013 that resulted to the destruction of properties and loss of lives of 2,689 people, 500 of them were children.
The visiting soldiers and medical team from these countries are to work alongside with their local counterparts doing their medical which includes veterinary and dog bite prevention classes in various villages of Tacloban, mostly those were hard-hit during the massive typhoon.
They are also to help construct the out-patient building of Tacloban City Hospital; San Fernando Elementary School and the Castilla Elementary School, all damaged during the typhoon.
The Japanese group, meantime, will hold special lessons on “shodo” (Japanese calligraphy); origami (the art of paper folding) and kendo (a form of martial arts).
The Americans, on the side of the mission, is also to hold band concerts at the Robinsons Mall.
Mission commander, Captain Brian Shipman, said that the exercise will aim to improve building capacity of countries involve during a disaster.
“The mission remains the same. There is still direct involvement of improving conditions on the ground but it also in building the capacity with all of our fellow services working side by side so that we understand each other better; we will work together better so that next time there is a disaster, we’re better able to hit it immediately, like an immediate impact and we’re not learning about each other when times are bad,” Shipman said.
Mayor Alfred Romualdez said that he could not express in words his gratitude for the continued support of the international community to Tacloban and its people.
“We’re always grateful. In fact, I said, it’s beyond words. We’re expecting any help (from the outside) and then it came all of a sudden. We did not even know about this partnership. That’s why, I salute the leaders who have crafted this partnership because it definitely saves lives,”Romualdez said. (JOEY A. GABIETA)