Monday, November 09, 2009

Philippine Army Winning Hearts And Minds In Mindanao

Scenes from the Army's 104th Infantry Brigade in the southern Philippines during its open house recently.

ILIGAN CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / November 9, 2009) – Philippine soldiers are winning hearts and minds in the volatile southern region of Mindanao – and their commanders are largely credited for promoting peace and unity in areas where they operate.

Just recently, the 104th Infantry (Sultan) Brigade based in Iligan City, attracted thousands of curious visitors – Christian and Muslims and indigenous tribesmen – after it opened its doors to the public – the first time ever for a major military base in this part of Mindanao.

And behind it is Colonel Benito de Leon, the brigade commander, who is fighting a different war – a battle to promote harmony and instill trusts among locals and soldiers in the provinces.

During its 9th Founding Anniversary celebrations, the camp have registered more than four thousand visitors mostly students who were curious how soldiers are accustomed to strict discipline and dedication to their duty.

The camp exhibits included the various display booths showcasing the brigade’s role, its capabilities, and accomplishments in pictures. The combat units under the brigade, the Philippine National Police, and the US military in the area also joined the exhibits.

Also, commercial outlets, and other institutions together with the Provincial Government of Lanao del Norte and the City Government of Iligan set up their stalls to promote tourism and their local products.

At that time, the public had the opportunity to interact casually with the soldiers in the camp, surveyed and handled the available military hardware. The various weapons on display and the armored tanks were the all-time crowd drawers.

Group tours, particularly for visiting schools and other entities, were guided by soldiers and local volunteer Tourism Students on practicum. Consistent with the brigade’s Muslim-inspired moniker as “Sultan,” the camp grounds were elaborately decorated with colorful Maranao traditional flags such as the “sambulayan” and “pasandalan.”

Martial march music and the sound of the “kulintang” accented the festive spirit. The last day even featured the world-acclaimed Kalimulan Dance Troupe of the Mindanao State University (MSU-IIT) performing cultural dances.

The mild-mannered brigade commander, who is well-respected in the province, was praised by many and so were his lieutenants and soldiers. Bennie as he is fondly called by friends said opening the camp to the public is one way for the community to better understand, know, and support their Army. “We owe it to the people to explain what we are doing; in the first place, they have mandated our existence and have paid in taxes for our service,” he said. (With a report from Merlyn Manos)

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