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Peacekeepers having a ball on Caballo Island

/ 05:00 AM November 22, 2014

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You need not feel sorry for the members of the Philippine peacekeeping contingent now quarantined on Caballo Island after their stint in Ebola-stricken Liberia. In fact, they will have a beach party this weekend.

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“We don’t get bored here. There’s cable TV, Internet, and even videoke,” said an officer in charge of the contingent, which returned to the country on Nov. 13.

The Philippine military has requested that the names of the peacekeepers not be disclosed until the quarantine period has ended.

Friday morning, provisions for a weekend barbecue party—beverages, fresh seafood, meat, vegetables and fruits—were flown by a Philippine Air Force helicopter from Villamor Airbase to Caballo, a rocky island at the entrance to Manila Bay.

Caballo Island. AP FILE PHOTO

Caballo Island. AP FILE PHOTO

Since their homecoming, the 133 members of the 18th Philippine contingent to Liberia, mostly belonging to the Air Force, have been isolated on the island controlled by the Philippine Navy and declared off-limits to civilians.

The quarantine period will last for 21 days.

Relax, enjoy

In a statement, Lt. Gen. Jeffrey Delgado, commanding general of the Air Force, said the PAF wanted to boost the morale of the peacekeepers while they are in quarantine.

“We want them to relax and enjoy their stay on Caballo Island,” Delgado said.

Other necessities included ‘‘care packages” from the families and relatives of the peacekeepers.

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In the packages brought to the island were the peacekeepers’ favorite snacks, noodles, canned goods, vitamins, milk, coffee and sugar.

“We thank the government for trying its best to make sure our stay here is comfortable and enjoyable,” the officer told the Inquirer.

Apart from having TV and Internet, the peacekeepers are staying in fully furnished air-conditioned rooms.

“To make it more fun, we play chess, scrabble and dart games and do fishing in parts of the sea up to where we are allowed,” the officer said.

Video chats

While the peacekeepers are not allowed physical contact with anyone, including their immediate family members, their families have been in constant communication with them.

Some reach their loved ones through their mobile phones. Others who are more Internet-savvy choose online messaging sites like Skype, Viber and Facebook for live video chats.

There is, however, an occasional lament.

“The Internet connection sometimes is not that fast,” the officer said.

Quarantine understandable

The officer said the protocols for a strict quarantine were completely understandable—the peacekeepers themselves saw how the West African country of Liberia reeled from one of the worst epidemics in modern history.

“We understand that they limit their contact with us and they (have to) wear protective equipment when getting near us,” he said.

Early this week, acting Health Secretary Janette Garin and Armed Forces chief Gen. Gregorio Pio Catapang Jr. drew criticisms for visiting Caballo without any protective gear, a breach in the quarantine protocol, which prohibits even family members of the soldier-peacekeepers from getting near them.

No unnecessary contacts

In Liberia, the officer said the troops were told not to have unnecessary contact with each other and make sure they frequently washed their hands since the Ebola virus is transmitted through direct contact with the body fluids, such as blood, of anyone with the virus.

The Filipino troops were in Liberia for 11 months doing peacekeeping work for the United Nations before the Philippine government decided to pull them out.

The Philippines has been sending contingents to Liberia since 2003 as part of its commitment to help the United Nations.

“We will be here 12 days more. We just want to use the time to rest and relax,” the officer said.

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TAGS: Caballo Island, Ebola, Ebola virus, Filipino peacekeepers, Liberia, peacekeeper
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