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42 Filipinos missing; PH set to send rescue team

/ 05:48 AM March 16, 2011

MANILA, Philippines—The Philippine Embassy in Tokyo released the names of 42 Filipinos reported missing in Friday’s quake tragedy. It also announced that 22 Filipinos had been found safe in the area.

The Philippines is prepared to deploy a 41-man search and rescue (SAR) team to earthquake-devastated Japan once it receives a go signal from the Japanese government.

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Foreign Undersecretary Rafael Seguis said there had been no reports of Filipinos injured in the disaster zone in northeastern Japan where the embassy had deployed two teams to assist affected nationals.

This is the first time a Philippine SAR team would be posted abroad.

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Days after the offer was made, however, there had been no reply so far.

“We’re ready to send whatever help that we can send. It only requires the assent of Japan,” said Communication Secretary Ricky Carandang. “Japan has been very generous to the Philippines. This is in a small way of paying them back for their generosity.”

Migrante International, a militant group serving overseas Filipino workers, Tuesday blasted Philippine embassy officials in Tokyo for sending teams empty handed to the disaster zone ostensively to help Filipino victims of Friday’s temblor and tsunami.

No relief goods

“They didn’t even bring relief goods when they knew Filipinos there were lacking food and water. They were just touring and had their pictures taken by the media just to show that they were doing something,” said Rossana Tapiru of Migrante.

“The Philippine government should seriously take its responsibilities to protect its citizens in Japan and elsewhere. Especially in this kind of situation, we expect them to do it responsibly, seriously and judiciously,” Tapiru said.

“This is the first time we’ll be sending a search and rescue team abroad,” Consul Elmer Cato told reporters at the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council office in Camp Aguinaldo on Tuesday following a multiagency meeting.

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The Philippines, however, has in the past sent numerous humanitarian missions to help disaster-struck countries.

The SAR team includes nine from counterpart groups in Makati, eight from Pasig, eight from Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority, 10 from the Army’s 51 Engineering Brigade and five from the Bureau of Fire Protection.

Army Col. Danilo Estropia, a former defense attaché to Japan, will head the contingent.

They will be complemented by Philippine Air Force pilots and crew of the C-130 military cargo plane that will transport the team to Japan.

Self-sustaining

Benito Ramos, executive director of the national disaster council, said the SAR team may stay in Japan for 10 to 14 days.

“We are going to be self-sustaining. We don’t expect anything from (the Japanese government). No food, no power, no communication facilities,” Ramos said.

He said the contingent would be equipped with radiation suits in view of the unresolved radiation threat in some damaged nuclear power plants.

He said no K-9 dog would be deployed because they might not survive the cold weather.

Richie Angeles, officer in charge of the Pasig SAR, said the group’s rescuers were well experienced and well trained even if they had not embarked on an SAR mission abroad.

“We have participated in international exercises but this is the first time that a search and rescue team will be sent in a real scenario outside. We’ve trained abroad and we have vast experience here,” Angeles said.

The Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) also has placed on standby a 20-member rescue team that could be sent to Japan.

Adm. Wilfredo Tamayo, PCG commandant, told reporters Navy Lt. Ted Esguerra, a physician in the Philippine team that scaled Mt. Everest and in the recently concluded Balangay Expedition, would head the contingent.

No need to panic

Seguis said most of the Filipinos in Japan were in the Tokyo area, 250 kilometers from the devastated region.

He said no decision had yet been made to repatriate nonessential embassy staff. The priority is to assist nationals in Japan, he said.

“We should not panic,” said Carmelita Dimzon, head of the Overseas Welfare Workers Administration.

“The situation of Filipinos in Japan is OK and there is no imminent danger to their lives.” With reports from Norman Bordadora, DJ Yap, Philip C. Tubeza and Jerome Aning

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TAGS: Disasters (general), Earthquake, Overseas employment, Tsunami
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