Tuesday, May 27, 2008

RP Troops Secure Visiting US Navy Hospital Ship In Mindanao

MAGUINDANAO, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / May 27, 2008) – Philippine soldiers have been deployed to secure the arrival of the United States Navy hospital ship Mercy in the strife-torn island of Mindanao.

The USNS Mercy is expected to arrive on Thursday for a two-week medical mission, said Lt. Col. Julieto Ando, spokesman for the Army’s 6th Infantry Division in Maguindanao province.

“We have deployed our soldiers to secure the USNS Mercy and its crew. We don’t want anything that will disrupt the conduct of this medical mission,” he told the Mindanao Examiner.

He said the medical mission, which will be joined by the Philippine military and other government agencies, is expected to draw tens of thousands of poor Filipinos, mostly from the Muslim autonomous region.

“We are looking at tens of thousands of patients here, or even a couple of hundreds of thousands. There will be on-board medical operations and humanitarians missions in the provinces under the Muslim autonomous region. This is something we look forward to do in two weeks time,” Ando said.

He said teams of US and Filipino military doctors and volunteers would conduct medical outreach programs in the provinces of Maguindanao, Shariff Kabunsuan, Lanao del Sur, Shariff Aguak, Cotabato City among other places in central Mindanao.

“This is an opportunity for us to help a lot of poor people and spread the message of peace and hope and all for the sake of humanity,” Ando said.
Ando said aside from the medical missions, the USNS Mercy will also support dental, veterinary, and construction assistance programs ashore at select locations in Mindanao.

“US and Filipino soldiers will also work together to build schools and roads as part of engineering civic action program,” he said.

Gov. Zaldy Ampatuan, of the Muslim autonomous region, said he is supporting US humanitarian efforts in Mindanao and thanked President George Bush for sending American troops to help in various civic action programs in the provinces.

It will be the first time the USNS Mercy will sail to central Mindanao, where Filipino troops are battling Abu Sayyaf militants and communist insurgents. Both groups have previously attacked US targets in the southern Philippines.

In June 2006, the 272.5-meter-long USNS Mercy also held a month-long series of medical missions in Zamboanga City, Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi provinces. The USNS Mercy was joined by volunteers from the US Public Health Service, Aloha Medical Mission, Project Hope and the Pre-Dental Society of the University of California along with a contingent of medical specialists from the U.S. and Canadian militaries.
Together, they provided medical and surgical services to patients in the ship’s on-board facilities and at hospitals and medical centers on shore with the help of the Taiwanese Tzu Chi Foundation, ACDI/VOCA, Save the Children and the Philippine Red Cross.

Shariff Ibrahim Ajibul Mohammad Pulalun, of the Sultanate of Sulu and North Borneo, has in the past thanked Washington for sending the USNS Mercy to the southern Philippines.

Pulalun, a staunch US supporter, urged the US to send more humanitarian assistance to Sulu and Tawi-Tawi islands and other Muslim areas in Mindanao to benefit the poor. He was also behind a big pro-US rally in Sulu in 2006 where more than 1,000 Muslims gathered to welcome American soldiers on the island for a series of humanitarian missions and trained Filipino troops in anti-terrorism warfare under the so-called Balikatan, an annual joint military exercise between the two countries.
The USNS Mercy was also in the Philippines in 1986 during a humanitarian mission. At least 25 percent of the ship's crew members are Filipino-Americans. (Mindanao Examiner)

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