Thursday, July 29, 2010

Haiti Quake Account

by Colonel Lope C Dagoy Inf (GSC) PA, Commander of the 10th Philippine Contingent in Haiti

MINUSTAH HQ after it collapsed during the earthquake.

Philippine troops attending to child survivors of the devastating earthquake.

This is my personal account of what transpired in Haiti during its darkest moment of its history as a nation when the country was struck by a 7.3 magnitude earthquake (Richter Scale) that killed, maimed, and displaced hundreds of thousands of people and caused enormous destruction of properties and infrastructures never before experienced by any people in the history of modern mankind.

I decided to write this article believing that I owe this to the men and women of 10th Philippine Contingent in Haiti who laboured the most by demonstrating the highest degree of service to the nation by exemplifying valor and unselfish devotion to duty despite imminent risks and danger to their lives and limbs, as well as in memory of my three peacekeepers who perished during the tragedy, namely: Sgt Eustacio C Bermudez, Jr PA, Sgt Janice D Arocena PAF, and DP3 Pearlie T Panangui PN, and finally, for all my subordinates, peers, and superiors in the Armed Forces of the Philippines to know this story for all of us to draw valuable lessons from it.

12 January 2010 (Tuesday)

The day was so normal that nobody among us had any intuition that something big is going to happen that will forever change the lives of the people in Haiti. All of us were doing well with our daily normal lives performing usual duties as peacekeepers under MINUSTAH (United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti). At 1630H (4:30 pm), I left my office at the 3rd floor of our Headquarters and went to my room down at the 2nd floor to change to athletic attire in order to play basketball with my troops. While in my room at about 1700H (5:00 pm), a very strong quake suddenly struck and caught us all in surprise violently shaking us from all directions. It was like a rodeo sport that movements were coming from all angles. It was long that lasted for about 40 seconds keeping me and most of my officers, who were also in their rooms, from running outside the building lest we’ll bang our heads to the walls or the floor. We waited till it slowed down before we ran outside of the building. That was something new to us despite the many earthquakes that we had always experienced in our country.

Pandemonium, chaos, confusion, and panic suddenly gripped the capital city and its neighboring places due to massive deaths, injuries, destructions, and complete isolation from the rest of the world. Everything was practically down and nothing seemed possible as all communication systems (telephone lines, cellphone signals, and internet) were suddenly gone. Most roads were blocked by landslides and debris of fallen buildings. Falling houses were a natural sight. I came out of our own 3-story headquarters (lucky enough it did not fall) still dizzy, only to see that the 12-Story MINUSTAH Headquarters fronting and overlooking from our headquarters has already collapsed. I cannot moved in utter disbelief considering the number of people who must have been trapped under its rubble including my thirty five (35) Philippine Contingent personnel who are regularly working inside the building. Among the VIPs that were also missing were the head of UN Mission himself, the Special Representative of the Secretary General (SRSG) and his deputy, the Principal Deputy to the SRSG (PDSRSG). The two were later recovered dead along with others. All adjacent buildings inside the UN compound have all collapsed and destroyed with varying degrees of destruction. This harrowing scene of devastation was too poignant to bear even as you hear the howling agonies of the survivors asking for help.

I lost no time in organizing my available men at the unit parking area in order to respond immediately hoping to rescue more survivors at the fallen MINUSTAH building. We can hardly move as we were stunned by the strong tremors that continue to occur every so often. We immediately gathered those survivors who were lucky enough to come out of the building alive after the quake, most of them with varying degrees of injuries, children and adults alike. As we continue to rescue more survivors from adjacent buildings I was emotionally overwhelmed to realize that it was only the Philippine Contingent Headquarters that remained standing despite the major cracks and damages it sustained. I could not help but feel the eeriness and can only thank God for the protection he must have extended to us. I can’t imagine how it would be like if my headquarters also collapsed and pinned us down under its rubble. Who could be left to do the rescue and treatment of survivors as we too, could have been survivors. What a grim scenario.

We all gathered the wounded survivors into my unit mini gym which we immediately converted into an emergency treatment center and administered the immediate first aid treatment by our lone military doctor assisted by some capable personnel. The rest of the troops went on to search for more possible survivors in the collapsed building. The rescues made by the troops were so daring and in absolute disregard of their own safety in the hope of rescuing more survivors on sight including our own missing people. In the midst of chaos, I have to account who among my men/women remain missing as I still did not know who they were.

At the height of the ongoing confusion, I managed to allocate a portion of my headquarters to be used as temporary MINUSTAH Headquarters by our then Acting Force Commander and the Military Chief of Staff, who were among those lucky few to have escaped from the troubled building and sought refuge in my camp, for them to effectively manage the ongoing rescue operations. I have to make available all our food rations, water, electricity, etc to everybody in my camp especially to the wounded survivors who were already growing in big number. I was doubly worried thinking that our supplies won’t be able to meet the requirement to sustain us all should the delivery of food and supplies will be delayed further.

It took me some time to establish a communication with my higher headquarters and my family who I knew for certain were just as worried of our situation and conditions. It was past 2000H (8:00 pm) that I chanced upon a UN staff member with a satellite phone and humbly asked him if I could possibly use it to contact my superiors in the Philippines and my wife. By that time representatives from other distant contingents have already waded through the barriers in the road and arrived in my headquarters and started to assist us in the search, rescue, and evacuation of the wounded survivors. As I got hold of the satellite phone I realized I do not have with me my cell phones which I left in my room at the height of confusion, hence I do not have a number to contact any of my superiors. The only number I could remember was that of my wife, so I was able to contact her. Through her I informed the Peacekeeping Operation Center (PKOC), GHQ about the tragedy and our current situation and conditions and promised to call them back at the most opportune time.

The days that followed were a suffering of defeat and tragedy. From the initial ten (10) of my troops that were reported missing, it was down to four (4) that were still missing. Then this was down to three (3) as one was eventually rescued.

Another Filipino working as a UN staff at the MINUSTAH, the Administrative Assistant of the Principal Deputy to the Special Representative of the Secretary General (PDSRSG), was also among the missing.

Meanwhile, another three (3) OFWs were also reported missing and believed to be among those still buried under the rubble of the collapsed 5-storey Caribbean Supermarket, some 6-8 kms away from my headquarters. Fortunately, one of them was eventually rescued, leaving 2 more still unaccounted.

All in all, we had a total of 6 Filipinos who were unaccounted for.

In light of the ongoing developments, I was informed by the Permanent Mission to the UN in New York that PGMA has issued a guidance for me to look into the welfare of the OFWs in Haiti as it was made known to her that the Honorary Consul for the Filipino Community in Haiti was nowhere to be found (I saw him only once when the Phil Ambassador in Haiti arrived but he remained missing after the Ambassador left the country). That made the situation worse for the OFWs and their families in Haiti.


Disaster response efforts in the following days were works in progress in all the areas of concern where our people (both UN personnel and OFWs) remained missing and buried. In the former MINUSTAH Headquarters, the SRSG (Head of Mission in Haiti) and PDSRG were already retrieved along with some 18 others, many of whom were Chinese, and all dead. Before the tragedy, a Chinese Ambassador together with a number of Chinese investors had a meeting with the SRSG and they too, were among those buried under the rubble of the fallen building. Hence, the Chinese Rescue Team insisted that they will take charge of the ongoing search and rescue as they were fully equipped to do the work. By that time, more and more heavy equipment from the Engineering Section of MINUSTAH have already arrived in the scene to help in the rescue efforts. What made me disappointed though was the immediate withdrawal of the Chinese Team from the ongoing search and rescue as soon as they were able to retrieve all the Chinese victims from the building. Had I known their plan, I should not have accommodated them in my camp. They could have saved more survivors if they did not leave too early.

The US Rescue Teams arrived in the scene and took charge of the ongoing rescue operations. There was a glimmer of hope that more survivors will be rescued as they were able to discover several signs or proofs of life under the rubble. They heard the same voices that were first heard by our troops. I had the chance to talk to the head of one of the teams and promised me that they will make a difference in the way they will handle the rescue operations.

As soon as the situation in my headquarters has stabilized, I dispatched a team from my unit to the Caribbean Supermarket to where our two OFWs were still trapped under its rubble to secure the place from looters and prevent complications to the possible rescue efforts in the place. There was a standing order then that only UN entities affected by the quake can be secured by any UN contingent and not any non-UN entity. It was a matter of priority why UN issued that order considering the enormity of the destruction of Haiti. But I, notwithstanding, persisted in securing the place if only to help in the rescue of the two OFWs still missing in the area. I have to find for a rescue team from any volunteer groups arriving in Haiti to do the rescue operations as we simply were not capable of doing it due to non-availability of appropriate equipment and training. Fortunately, my close acquaintance with the US Military Attaché in Haiti, was a major factor that did me a lot of favors in the face of the tragedy. It was from him that I asked for an American Rescue Team who can do the search and rescue in the Caribbean Supermarket equipped with all the necessary tools and equipment. True enough, as soon as I made the verbal request from him for the availability of a rescue team, without any iota of reluctance, he immediately sent one in the stricken place. That was around 2200H (10:00 pm) when I asked him the favour, and believed me, I was surprised to see for myself the presence of the rescue team in the supermarket at 2300H (11:00 pm) already doing the risky job as I dropped by the place to see the situation and meet a number of OFWs who were there holding vigils along with my troops watching while the rescue operations were going on. I felt the expression of hope and happiness from the faces of our OFWs, some of whom even managed to clap their hands, upon seeing us in the area. I immediately talked to the head of the American Rescue Team and thanked him for their unselfish assistance. In turn, he promised to work for the recovery of the Filipino survivors until signs or proofs of life will cease to exist. I left the place at 0100H (1:00 am) and headed back to my headquarters as I need to take a needed rest. Sleep has become a scarcity since day 1 of the tragedy.

It was indeed a great relief that Ambassador MacArthur Corsino of Cuba, Haiti, Dominican Republic, and Jamaica, who is based in Cuba and a fraternal brother at that, emailed to inform me that he was coming on to oversee the needs and concerns of the OFWs. It certainly lessened the responsibilities I had been assuming for the OFWs in view of the inaction of the Honorary Consul for the OFWs and their families. Our task was to support the Ambassador in all his endeavours for the OFWs and their families as everything there seemed very difficult. Communication, mobility, and accommodation (billeting) remain a problem. Thanks to the collective Filipino spirit, we were able to overcome these challenges.

The Challenges

The root cause of the challenges in a disaster is the ability of the country to prepare for it. And the hardest part of disaster preparedness is not to meet the crisis that we can foresee, but to prepare for what we cannot. The tragic Haiti earthquake, indeed demonstrated how, even UN, a super strong body composed of different states, can readily succumb to the viciousness of a natural calamity. Despite its readiness and capacities to respond to disaster-affected countries as part of its founding mandates, it is never exempt from suffering nor able to mitigate the severity of a calamity it never expected to come.

Having witnessed the sad experience of the UN to have sustained such a magnitude of destruction and the number of personnel casualties never before experienced since its existence in 1948, one wonders how severe it could happen to a weak countries like Haiti and even other developing countries like the Philippines. Our level of preparedness can truly be measured by the degree of destruction we have sustained once hit by a calamity no matter how rhetorically we claimed to have prepared well for any disaster to come.

The enormity of destruction caused by the tragic quake in Haiti has given us contingents enormous challenges ranging from the conduct of search, rescue, retrieval, and rehabilitation. This too, has tested the psychological readiness and our disaster response capabilities given the limited resources we have vis-a-vis the huge tasks at hand. Needless to say, it was the most challenging dimension of our peacekeeping duties in Haiti.

Being ourselves victims of the tragedy, having suffered three personnel casualties and several injured, it never gave us the reason to waver from our duties as peacekeepers in the face of those adversities. We had to do what we believed was necessary as I have earlier narrated. In addition, allow me to cite some important facets of this dimension of the challenges we had in Haiti during the tragedy.

The Filipino Community

As we arrived in Haiti, many of us could hardly believe that we have such a number of OFWs and their families in the country considering its economic and political conditions which are far from ideal for better employment. But alas, they are earning better than what they used to earn in the Philippines. And to my surprise, many are even earning at six digit figure in terms of Philippine peso. Hence, their number is growing as more and more Filipinos were invited to come to the country. The last count I had of them was a little over two hundred forty (240). They were organized as a Filipino Community (FilCom) and had a set of officers to run their organization. They had a designated Honorary Consul of their choice who they believed will look into their welfare considering that many remain undocumented.

Upon my arrival in Haiti, I saw to it that my unit must have a good rapport with FilCom as it is also my way of mitigating the psychological effects of foreign deployment to my troops. The FilCom has always been welcome to my unit and we too, were always welcome to them. Medical assistance to FilCom and their children were a natural gesture of support that we extend to them. Granted leaves and rest & recreations of my personnel were normally spent with their friends in the FilCom. Socials and sports activities were often held jointly between us and the OFWs. These activities indeed strengthened the bond between us.

When the tragedy struck, I thought of the FilCom, but I simply cannot move to help them given the kind of situation we were in during the initial stages of the tragedy. Then in the succeeding days, three officers of FilCom managed to reach my headquarters and were surprised and overwhelmed to see for themselves our present situation in the UN compound. They too, have also reported the situation of the FilCom and that of the two OFWs that remained missing in the Caribbean Supermarket. They need a rescue team badly to help them find and rescue the missing two OFWs. Food and water were also becoming their concerns as there were no more supermarkets and grocery stores that were open due to fear of mobs and lootings. Their fears were further aggravated by the growing number of cadavers scattered in the metropolis that will potentially cause a severe epidemic problem in the coming days. They also told me that the Honorary Consul was already informed of their situation but has remained inactive citing his own reason of destructions, etc that he was also experiencing.

In response to these immediate concerns of the FilCom, I immediately dispatched a squad from my unit to secure the fallen Caribbean Supermarket in order to prevent the looters from exploiting the situation that could derail any search and rescue operations to recover the two OFWs. I also sent food (rice, coffee, sugar, oatmeal, etc) and water to the OFWs who were displaced from their residences due to major damages in their houses. They were grouped in four different barangays and I have to send regular patrols in these places to protect them from criminal groups out to take advantage of the situation just to allay the fears of the FilCom. I also personally visited them to see their situations and also informed them of our own situation and what the UN and the American forces in Haiti are doing to address the immediate problems of the country.

I placed a separate call to both the Permanent Mission in New York headed by Ambassador Hilario Davide where I had the chance to talk to the Ambassador himself, and to Ambassador MacArthur Corsino in Haiti who is based in Cuba, and informed them of our situation and that of our OFWs and their families and the initial assistance we have extended to them. I was informed by Ambassador Davide that indeed PGMA has relayed instructions for me to look into the welfare of the FilCom. Then too, Ambassador Corsino informed me that he was coming to Haiti to personally see and assess the situation of the OFWs and their families for their possible repatriation. I then arranged for a meeting with the officers of the FilCom at a safe place in my headquarters to plan for the arrival and the activities of Ambassador Corsino in Haiti.

As soon as Ambassador Corsino arrived in Haiti, we immediately held a meeting at the residence of the President of FilCom together with some officers of the PNP Contingent. We drew up plans for the evacuation of the OFWs and organized a Task Group to carry out the plans that were taken. I was assigned for the security and protection of the OFWs and their families especially during the repatriation and their movement to Dominican Republic, and of course, the ongoing rescue and retrieval of the two missing OFWs at the Caribbean Supermarket.

When the number of those OFWs and their families who will be repatriated to the Philippines was already finalized, we immediately planned for their movement from their respective places to the bus terminal where two busses will be waiting to bring them to the Dominican Republic for their subsequent flight to the Philippines. They have to be brought to the Dominican Republic because the International Airport of Haiti was still closed to commercial flights. I had them escorted towards the border of the two countries to ensure their safety from criminal groups that were becoming active in their criminal activities owing to the escape of more than 4,000 inmates when their prison facilities broke down during the quake.

As the days went on, the situation in the Caribbean Supermarket was becoming worse due to the foul odor coming from the more or less 80 people believed to be trapped under the rubble of the supermarket and already presumed dead. The OFWs can no longer bear the unpleasant odor in the area and started to leave the place leaving my troops to keep a watch on the ongoing retrieval operations. Finally, one of the bodies of the two OFWs was retrieved.

As soon as the body was retrieved, the sister of the OFW immediately decided, without consultation with us, that it be buried immediately based on the advice of her special friend due to non-availability of funeral services working in Haiti. Prior to that, I was already trying to make an arrangement with KENYON International Services, the only funeral services (company) now working in Haiti but only for UN casualties, for the possible accommodation of the remains of the OFW in bringing same to Dominican Republic, some nine- hour drive from Haiti, for its necessary preparation prior to its repatriation to the Philippines. Unfortnately, I heard from another OFW that the sister was bent on burying the remains of her sister in Haiti. I tried to intervene by calling the Religious Adviser of the FilCom, a Filipino Priest, and requested him if he can prevail upon her to hold in abeyance her decision at least for two hours as I was still talking to the management of KENYON. I was confident then that my request will be granted because we had been of great help to the company in collecting and shuttling the remains of the retrieved UN casualties from our collection point to their freezers at the Logistics Base of the UN, some 15 kms away from our headquarters. These remains are subsequently brought to the Dominican Republic where they will be prepared prior to their repatriation to different countries of destination. However, the sister of the retrieved OFW remained adamant and proceeded with her decision to bury her sister in Haiti. This was followed later by a call from KENYON informing me that my request was granted by the management. I couldn’t celebrate because the repatriation was already a moot issue based on that decision to bury the remains in Haiti. I can only thank KENYON for their kindness and thought that it was one less tough job for us, as my way of mitigating my frustration.

I was chatting with my wife through the internet later that night when she suddenly informed me that the father of the retrieved OFW was on TV and was publicly appealing to PGMA that the remains of her daughter be repatriated back to the Philippines as soon as possible. I could not utter any word except to say, wow! I knew the situation was becoming complicated because the Haitian government will not allow any exhumation of remains not until after six months after its interment. Then I knew too, that I have no choice because the task to do it will be given to me. I immediately called up the sister and asked her if she coordinated with her parents on her decision to bury her sister in Haiti, to which she said, no. I asked her to call her parents, if only to make sure of their intention to have the remains of their daughter repatriated back to the country, and to give me a ring back for me to know the answer. She later called back to inform that it was affirmative. I asked her to give me the number of her special friend who orchestrated the plan to bury the remains immediately. I talked to the guy who is of Arab descent and who happened to be the manager of the fallen supermarket and intimidated him to recover fast the remains and bring back it back to the supermarket where it was retrieved or else I will remove the security at the said supermarket and leave it open to looters. It was purely a bluff that worked to which the guy obliged without delay. How he did it was not much of my concern. Immediately, I had the body sent to the freezer of KENYON for them to move the remains to Dominican Republic at the most possible time.
Throughout this exciting saga on the remains of the OFW, I maintained a close coordination with DFA through Ambassador Corsino who also tasked the Filipino Consul General in Dominican Republic to meet the remains and look into its immediate preparation prior to its subsequent repatriation to the Philippines. I was assured by KENYON that the body need not be cremated, as what I thought, and it will be sent to the country as it is, but no longer for public viewing. Meanwhile, the search for the other missing OFW remains a continuing task for all Filipinos in Haiti.

The Philippine Medical Team

At the height of the tragedy in Haiti, PGMA made a bold pronouncement that the Philippines will send an 18-man Philippine Medical Team composed of doctors, nurses, technicians, and sanitary engineers to help UN in its massive medical activities to help the more than 300,000 injured people of various races, most of which are locals. The team will be bringing with them medical supplies and equipment that will be needed in all their medical activities.

In light of this pronouncement, I took the initiative to make sure that they will be given the appropriate security, accommodation, and all necessary assistance they need to ensure the success of their mission in Haiti. The situation in the country was far worse than what they have heard and expected. I had to call for a conference among my staffs to plan for the preparations and all possible assistance to be extended to the team upon their arrival in Haiti. I tasked my concerned staffs to specifically work on the arriving medical supplies and equipment that the team was bringing in; their place of assignment to possibly keep them together as a team and relatively closer to our headquarters; their accommodation to be accessible to power, water, ablution facilities, and internet; transportation; security detail; and language assistants. I called on the PNP contingent to assist the team at the border of Haiti and Dominican Republic to facilitate their swift passage considering the volume of aid agencies coming in to Haiti causing so much congestion at the border. Indeed, border crossing will be a tough act for a team to do without a UN police or military contingent to assist them.

Upon their arrival in Haiti, I and the PNP Contingent Commander met them at the Logistics Base of the UN. After the short acquaintance with every member of the team, we immediately whisked them to the Office of Coordination for Health Administration (OCHA) where all aid agencies coming to Haiti have to register and arrange for their place or area of assignment. Since we already made a prior coordination with OCHA on the arrival of the team, we got the audience of the Haitian Health Minister himself and assigned the team as a group to a hospital which was very close to my headquarters. They substituted the American Medical Team from the said hospital upon the termination of the latter’s duty. From OCHA we brought them to the initial place of accommodation we have prepared, a single tent we pitched within the “Tent City” designated solely for all foreign aid agencies. However, the place has no good access to power, water, ablution facilities, too hot, and very noisy being situated close to the runway of the international airport. I was just too concerned of the five female members of the team. Before I left to allow them time for themselves to unload and prepare their belongings, I promised that we will be moving them the following day to a better place which will be more comfortable for the group. I could sense some faces were smiling and others sighed their relief when they heard it.

We moved them to two new tents, this time at the Headquarters of the Guatemala Military Police Contingent, the Commander of which was a very good friend of mine who personally welcomed them as guests at his headquarters. The group were given a brief tour of their facilities that they are free to use as guests of the unit. Power, water, ablution and even internet access were all available to the team. It was a far cry from the tent city that they had experience.

We made available to them our military trucks, apart from the hired vehicle we had arranged for them, in case they need it to shuttle them to and from their places of engagements. And lastly, I assigned them a Haitian, our unit errand who had been with the Philippine Contingent since the time of the 4th Philippine Contingent in Haiti, to be their Language Assistant (interpreter). To their surprise, the guy talked to them fluently in Tagalog.

Finally, on their return to Dominican Republic upon the termination of their duty in Haiti, we arranged for their accommodation to the UN flight to Dominican Republic, a privilege that is seldom granted to medical teams like them, to allow them more time in that country and explore the City of Santo Domingo to be guided by the Filipino Consul General himself, to whom I also made an arrangement.

I and my men do hope that the assistance we have extended to them made their mission in Haiti, not only a learning experience, but a memorable one too.

GMA7 News Team

Together with the Philippine Medical Team that arrived in Haiti was the GMA7 News Team led by Jiggy Manicad and with three others. The team will conduct a full coverage of the ongoing disaster relief and rehabilitation efforts by the UN and other aid agencies from different countries. This is to give the Philippines a better picture of the actual situation of the on-going efforts to rehabilitate Haiti from the massive destructions it has experienced following the tragic quake on 12 January 2010.

Jiggy Manicad, has long been an old acquaintance who covered some of my previous exploits in the field when I was still an Infantry Battalion Commander in Leyte. He asked me to assist his team to look for a better place of accommodation considering that lodging and billeting in Haiti have become a scarcity due to the massive destruction brought by the tragic quake. Instead of helping him find a place for their team, I offered a place for his team in my headquarters considering that they too, are Filipinos and will definitely be my concern while they were in Haiti. I rationalized my offer by telling him that the situation in Haiti has become very volatile and reports of violent incidents have tremendously increased during the period. Media were no exempt as cases of reporters being robbed of their cameras and other equipment were already noted. It will also be to our advantage since coordination between us will be much easier if his team is co-located with us. In like manner it will also be an opportunity for them to witness what the Philippine Contingent is doing in the performance of its peacekeeping mission in Haiti. Perhaps, realizing the advantages to both our side, he readily accepted my offer.

To make their coverage more extensive and secure, I assigned one of my personnel to be the driver of the hired vehicle we have also arranged for them. I also made available one of my unit Language Assistants as their guide during their entire coverage in Haiti. The team made a full coverage of the situation of the OFWs and their families in Haiti. They joined us in our visits to the different barangays of the FilCom as we joined the Philippine Medical Team in their medical activities for the OFWs. They too, extended some food assistance to the displaced OFWs.

The men and women of the 10th Philippine Contingent in Haiti were also grateful for the coverage made by the team that also included us featuring some of our men doing relief and rehabilitation efforts for the victims of the tragedy as part of our peacekeeping duties in Haiti. We do hope that the similar assistance we have extended to the news team ably assisted them in their assigned mission in Haiti for the glory of the Philippines and the Filipinos.

Personal Gratitude

The concerted actions demonstrated by the unit founded on strong collectivism and resolve, enabled the unit to wade through those challenges with very minimal setbacks. The various expressions of admiration and support extended to the unit, not only from Filipino colleagues, but also by foreign counterparts from the US, Brazil, Chile, Nepal, Guatemala, etc. who never made secret of their gratefulness to the unit, are mere testaments to its good performance of a job well done. The numerous letters of commendation by the different Heads of Offices under MINUSTAH to our personnel are just among the few manifestations of the feats, courage, diligence, and dedication to duties demonstrated and shown by our troops in Haiti.
Based on these actions, the unit has recorded the following post-quake accomplishments: Total number of victims rescued by the unit immediately after the quake was placed at fourteen (14); Total number of wounded survivors treated at unit emergency treatment center was placed at one hundred five (105); Total number of treated survivors evacuated to the UN hospital was placed forty five (45); Total number of dead bodies retrieved from the different sites/locations including bodies of locals and non-UN individuals was placed at one hundred fifty three (153), with only the bodies of UN personnel including the body of the OFW were delivered to KENYON.

Towards this end, I would like to express my personal gratitude to my troops under 10th PCH who never wavered, but remained very responsible and professional towards the performance of their duties with utmost degree of standards. The unit has more than accomplished the given mission of MINUSTAH even in the face of extreme challenges, not only in the career of my men, but in their own very lives. Our country and the AFP can truly be proud of them.

My Assessment

Looking back, the tragedy that I went through in Haiti was one hell of an experience that nobody would even try to experience. But having survived such a catastrophe, I have no regrets either, as the tragedy itself was a rare learning experience so full of lessons to learn from. From what I saw and observed on the subsequent disaster response and rehabilitation efforts performed by the UN and other countries through various aid agencies, I realized that we as a country has still so many things to learn on disaster preparedness. The sheer lack of resources and political will to acquire the needed equipment and simulate realistic trainings in order to surge our capacities in our disaster preparedness program have always remain the root cause of the challenges we will always be facing. Strong resolve and readiness to perform beyond the call of duties are not enough qualities of our troops to respond effectively during disasters. It is always the duty of every country as a state and its concerned bureaucracies to be able to provide the most basic protection to its people from all potential threats to their lives.

Perhaps, it is about time for the government to challenge the status quo and start re-thinking our foreign policy that will lean towards inter-dependence with friendly states. Review our National Security Strategy and consider creating a single cabinet-level development agency, maybe from among the existing ones, that will unite all capabilities for prevention and rapid response against threats and disasters. All policies and existing support systems concerning security challenges including disaster preparedness must be reviewed and come up with new, cohesive, and better policies that will be more responsive to the emerging challenges of the present time. It must harness jointly the military and civilian (particularly LGUs) capacities to manage security risks. This will significantly optimize our meagre resources and eliminate redundancy and duplicity of functions between and among departments. Capacity building will be more focused and highly organized sans rivalries and competitions among concerned departments. These are only matters of political will and political capital on the part of the government more than of money.

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