South Korea keeps its word, sends more than 500 soldiers to help Leyte town
Shouts of their battle cry “fighting” filled the air at the tarmac of the Mactan Air Base at 1:30 on Friday afternoon when 300 South Korean soldiers, in military uniform and backpacks, disembarked from a Korean Air plane.
Another 229 soldiers arrived earlier, around 9 a.m. on Friday, on board two South Korean Navy landing ships that docked at the Cebu International Port. The two ships, LST682 Bi ro bong and LST685 Sung in Bong, carried equipment for reconstruction and medical mission.
The 529 soldiers from South Korea came prepared to take on the task of reconstruction of the “Yolanda”-devastated Tanauan town in Leyte province.
Col. Chul Won-lee, who led the 300 South Korean Army soldiers, said they came to show their gratitude to the Philippines for being there for them during the Korean War in the 1950s.
“The Korean government and the Koreans and all the Araw members significantly remember the great help that the Philippine government and its people have given to Korea in its most difficult time,” he said.
They called their contingent “Araw” to give hope to Yolanda survivors, Colonel Lee explained.
“To Korea, the Philippines is a friend nation and the first country to participate in the Korean War and helped us defend our freedom and peace,” he added.
Colonel Lee also was reminded of his personal encounter with Filipino hospitality when he stayed in the Philippines where he took his officers’ course at the Joint Staff College of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.
Lee then cited a proverb in Korea which he says depicts relations between the Philippines and the Republic of Korea.
“Philippines is a true friend that has willingly offered [help] to Korea in its most difficult times. Philippines is going through a hardship caused by unprecedented disaster. We are here to return the kindness that the Philippines has shown us and to become its true friend,” he said.
Colonel Lee also added that this is their way of returning the “prudent sacrifices” of the 112 Filipino soldiers who died in the Korean War.
In an interview, ambassador Hyuk Lee of the Republic of Korea told reporters that they would be staying for a duration of six months in Tanauan.
Aside from doing rehabilitation work, some members of the 529-soldier contingent will be providing medical services in Tanauan.
Ambassador Lee emphasized that they chose Tanauan to be their beneficiary as there is a lot of foreign help already in Tacloban City.
“Tacloban is taken care of (by) many foreign governments and NGOs,” he told reporters.
The ambassador said they would extend their stay for another six months if there was a need for it.
He added that if they would finish reconstruction in Tanauan, they would transfer to the next priority area, which is Palo town still in Leyte.
In a separate interview, Undersecretary Eduardo Batac, head of the Civil, Veterans and Reserve Affairs of the Department of National Defense, told reporters that the contingent from Korea has brought its own equipment to use in the reconstruction.
Reconstruction, Batac said, might require building temporary houses for the victims of Yolanda.
But he emphasized that this would have to be coordinated as priorities for reconstruction would be discussed.
The contingent was welcomed by Batac, Central Command chief Maj. Gen. John Bonafos, 2nd Air Division chief Maj. Gen. Romeo Poquiz, and Cordova town Mayor Adelino Sitoy.
Koreans who are based in Cebu also brought South Korean and Philippine flaglets.
The 529-contingent has left for a nine-hour travel to Tanauan after a send-off ceremony at past 4 p.m. on Friday held at the Cebu International Port.
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