PH Marines, volunteers deliver care, joy to edge of Sulu
(Second of three parts)
Dozens of civilian volunteers and marines boarded the Philippine Navy’s BRP Iwak (LC 289) one evening in late November, to travel about 17 hours from Zamboanga City to the town of Siasi, the most southern part of Sulu. The mission: to bring gifts, basic needs, medicines, and provide free health care as much as they could.
The Marine Battalion Landing Team-1 (MBLT-1) has been conducting humanitarian missions around its areas of responsibilities in Sulu since early 2017 on the sidelines of its Football for Peace program, an effort aimed to teach the sport to the youth and instill values like discipline and teamwork.
Lt. Col. Stephen Cabanlet, commanding officer of MBLT-1, calls the activity “All-in-one mission” since it offers free medical and dental assistance, as well as gift-giving, games, and more that would cater to the young ones and young-at-heart.
Football for Peace was the highlight of the day-long program, participated by around 300 children and teenagers.
“Hindi lang medical mission ang hatid ng MBLT-1. Nakapagbuo kami ng activity para ma-cater ang lahat ng nasa komunidad, simula bata, matanda, babae, lalaki. Meron po tayong activities simula Medcap (medical civic action program), Dencap (dental civic action program), feeding program, free haircut, eye surgery, turnover of books at regalo para sa mga kabataan,” Cabanlet told residents of Siasi, a second-class municipality with a population of 47,000.
Siasi Mayor Arthur Muksan expressed his appreciation to the military’s contributions, as he admitted the lack of medical services in the municipality.
“These activities should not have been done by military. These should have been done by regional officials and others… Pero makikita natin it’s spearheaded by military personnel,” he said.
About 3,000 residents received free medical services, including minor surgeries and check-up, during the whole day event.
Luningning Salcedo, a resident and volunteer, said she hopes the military would come back for more.
“Sa amin maraming indigent kaya sana maulit. Nahihiya lang ang mga tao na magpakita na walang-wala sila pero ang totoo walang-wala ang karamihan, nahihiya lang sabihin. Kailangan offer-an dahil nahihiya sila manghingi ng tulong,” she said.
The breathtaking island of Sulu, with its crystal clear waters and untouched beaches, is scarred with conflict and kidnappings by armed groups like the Abu Sayyaf. This makes help from outsiders even harder to come by.
Joint Task Force Sulu commander Brig. Gen. Cirilito Sobejana admitted that it is a security challenge. But he also emphasized that they could not solve the problem through weapons alone.
“Of course there are armed elements (that) need to be neutralized, but hindi ito ma resolve sa pamamagitan ng Armed Forces of the Philippines lamang…Kelangan natin ng katuwang mula sa civil government, local government,” he said.
[The MBLT-1 hopes to expand its services to its future missions. Interested volunteers and donors may contact the unit’s commanding officer Lt. Col. Stephen Cabanlet at [email protected]]
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