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NEWS | May 9, 2024

Philippine, US forces conclude Balikatan humanitarian efforts

By Courtesy Story, Exercise Balikatan

Service members from the Armed Forces of the Philippines and U.S. military successfully completed a series of humanitarian civic assistance efforts focused on community health engagements, engineering civic action projects, and civil-military engagements during Exercise Balikatan 24.

From March 26 to May 9, a team of 305 U.S. and AFP civil-military operations planners, specialized health professionals, engineers, and chaplains built schools, community health centers, administered medical and dental services, and distributed school supplies and classroom technology in Aurora, La Union, Ilocos Norte, Cagayan, and Palawan.

The goal of HCA is to improve infrastructure, enhance medical response, and strengthen ties between local communities and Philippine and American military forces. Eleven months of planning between the AFP and U.S. led into the Balikatan HCA.

“The alliance between our nations is stronger than ever because of mutual interests and a shared heart.” said U.S. Marine Col. David J. Fennell, the U.S. commander of the Combined Joint Civil-Military Operations Task Force. “As partners, it’s natural that we work together in service of the Filipino people.”

Community health engagements provided medical and dental evaluations and care, taught basic lifesaving skills to local residents and healthcare workers, and gifted medicine and medical equipment. Additionally, they facilitated subject matter expert exchanges. Military health specialists ranged from dental surgeons to behavioral health providers to an entomologist. Across five communities, a total of 795 medical patients and 550 dental patients received care, and 500 people received education in a variety of topics including basic lifesaving, preventative medicine, and water conservation.

Engineering civic action projects developed the infrastructure of four communities. Bilateral engineering teams constructed elementary school classroom buildings in La Union and Cagayan, as well as community medical centers in Ilocos Norte and Palawan. The cost of the four buildings totaled $520,000. These projects, chosen by AFP and U.S. planners in collaboration with local authorities and community leaders, targeted specific community needs. Notably, the new health center in Rizal, Palawan serves as the only nearby facility for Punta Baja, a rural community with 400 households, where 250 households reported malaria cases in the past year.

Civil-military engagements provided classroom technology, known as 'bundles of joy,' to five elementary schools. These included TVs, solar panels, computers, printers, and other school supplies, tailored to each school’s use case. Gift-givings were preceded by interfaith prayer services with U.S. and AFP chaplains and local religious leaders. A total of 53 local religious leaders of different faiths participated in the engagements. The bundles of joy benefited 1000 students and 92 teachers.

“These are high impact projects that have long-lasting effects on communities,” said Philippine Air Force Col. Arman G. Mampusti, the Philippine commander of the Combined Joint Civil-Military Operations Task Force. “HCA exhibits what the U.S. and Philippines can accomplish together.”