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UPDATE PRESS RELEASE
07 NOVEMBER 2008
RP PEACEKEEPERS USE BARE HANDS TO RESCUE VICTIMS OF HAITI SCHOOL BUILDING COLLAPSE
NEW YORK—Filipino peacekeepers once again rose to the challenge on Friday by rushing to the site of a collapsed school building in Haiti and using their bare hands to pull out victims buried in the rubble.
In its report to Foreign Affairs Secretary Alberto G. Romulo, the Philippine Mission to the United Nations said members of the 8th Philippine Peacekeeping Contingent serving with the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) were able to recover five survivors and four fatalities from the rubble of the multi-story La Promesse School in the outskirts of Port-au-Prince.
"Filipino Blue Berets were the first to arrive at the scene and immediately went to action, using their bare hands to roll over concrete slabs and dig through the rubble in their bid to pull out both the living and the dead," Ambassador Hilario G. Davide, Jr., Philippine Permanent Representative to the United Nations, said.
The accident left at least 30 persons dead and an undetermined number of injured but authorities expect the casualty toll to climb as there were around 700 students with ages ranging from three- to 20-years old attending classes in the church-run school when tragedy struck at around 10 a.m.
Quoting reports from Col. Raymundo Elefante, the Philippine peacekeeping contingent commander, Ambassador Davide said the Filipino peacekeepers were dispatched to the accident site in the capital's Pétionville district by no less than the MINUSTAH Force Commander, Maj. Gen. Carlos Dos Santos Cruz of Brazil.
Ambassador Davide said Colonel Elefante led two platoons of Filipino peacekeepers under Air Force Capt. Rony Cubar and Army Maj. Donald Hongitan in the initial search and rescue efforts that led to the recovery of the nine victims.
According to Ambassador Davide, the Filipino peacekeepers, who left with General Dos Santos Cruz from the MINUSTAH headquarters, were even forced to run the remaining two kilometers to the accident site after the narrow roadway was made impassable to vehicles by hundreds of distraught relatives and kibitzers who were also trying to make their way to the school.
Ambassador Davide said the Filipino peacekeepers turned over the search and rescue functions to the military engineering and medical units from Brazil, Chile and Ecuador that arrived later and focused instead on restoring order by performing crowd control duty around the accident site.
"Our peacekeepers went beyond the call of duty and put their own lives at risk," Ambassador Davide said as he paid tribute to the members of the Philippine contingent who took part in the rescue operations.
The Philippines has maintained a steady presence in Haiti since 2004 when the United Nations sent peacekeepers to restore order in the impoverished Caribbean nation following massive protests that led to the overthrow of former President Jean Bertrand Aristide. The Philippines lost one peacekeeper in 2005 after gunmen loyal to Aristide ambushed UN peacekeepers and killed Army TSgt. Antonio Batomalaque.
At present, the Philippines has 157 officers and enlisted personnel from the Army, Navy and Air Force and 13 officers from the Philippine National Police serving with MINUSTAH. ###
ELMER G. CATO Second Secretary & Press Officer Philippine Mission to the United Nations 556 Fifth Avenue, Fifth Floor New York, New York 10036 Tel. No. 212.764.1300 Extension 38
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