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Flood cleanup grows Philippine, U.S. bond during PHIBLEX 14

3 Oct 2013 | Lance Cpl. Jose Lujano

OLONGAPO CITY, Philippines - No nation or community is immune to the hazards of severe weather, and unfortunately the community of Olongapo City, Zambales, Republic of the Philippines is no different. 

Heavy rainfall from Typhoon Usagi flooded Olongapo streets, homes and schools with mud and debris during late September. The magnitude of the flooding caused the city’s council to declare Olongapo under a state of calamity.

Once the flood-waters receded, a group of 39 U.S. Marines and sailors volunteered their time to assist Olongapo police officers and community members as well as Philippine soldiers to clean three-flood damaged schools Sept. 29 during the Amphibious Landing Exercise 2014. The Philippine soldiers are with the Philippine Army Reserve Command. The Marines and sailors are with 3d Marine Expeditionary Brigade, III Marine Expeditionary Force.

“This community relations project exemplifies the strong partnership and spirit of cooperation formed between the U.S. and Philippine Armed Forces over our 63-year alliance,” said Col. John M. Peck, 3d MEB chief of staff. 

PHIBLEX 14, a bilateral training exercise, is designed to improve Philippine-U.S. interoperability, increase readiness, and enhance the ability for a bilateral force to respond to natural disasters or other regional contingencies.

The team of Filipino and American volunteers assisted cleanup efforts at Santa Rita High School, Santa Rita Elementary and Olongapo City Elementary, according to Peck. 

“Seeing Marines working side-by-side with our Filipino counterparts strengthens the bonds we've forged over the past, while at the same time providing some assistance to a community that has been such gracious hosts to us over the years,” said Peck.

The flooding disrupted the city as a whole and several schools closed for about a week due to the damage. 

“It was a terrible feeling seeing our school destroyed,” said Josephine A. Abarro, the Santa Rita High School principal. “Our books, chairs, tables, computers and cabinets were damaged by the water, and the only thing that was really left was the building and some the students’ desks.”

The community members saw that not only is the Philippine government concerned for their community and country, but their American guests as well, according to Abarro. 

“It is a good and safe feeling seeing the Filipino soldiers and U.S. Marines work together maintaining a good relationship with each other,” said Abarro.

The devastation left many community members without a home and clean water.

“Since the students reside close to the school, many of their homes were also destroyed by the flood and that’s why very few community members were able to help because they have their homes to take care of,” said Abarro. 

While donations are appreciated, the actions of the group were worth more than money, according to Abarro.

“Money donations would not compare to the care that was demonstrated when we saw Filipinos and Americans working together helping our school,” said Abarro. “The first thing we will tell our students that is that (Filipinos and) Americans helped clean our school, so that (the students) can continue to grow to become educated civilians of the world.”

For some service members, this event marked the first time they worked side-by-side with another nation’s military to help a community in need. These Marines and sailors took pride in their laborious tasks, completing them as if they were assisting their own community.

“While this is my second time in the Philippines, this was the first time in my career doing any volunteer work with anyone beside Marines,” said Cpl. Ericka M. Schork, an administrative specialist with 3d MEB. “I took a lot of pride in helping out. There was a lot of mud, and we had only a few supplies and a little time to do this.”

“I grabbed handfuls of mud trying to clean the school faster because that’s what I would do if it was my community,” she added. 

The disaster recovery did more than just clean up mud and debris, but enhanced friendship between the forces and the community.

“I enjoy helping out the community doing humanitarian work and felt (like) it fostered a lot of camaraderie,” said Schork. 

While getting to know each other together, we accomplished what we set out to do and helped reopen the school so that the children could resume their education, added Schork.

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