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Pinoy Abroad

RP troops helping in rescue work in Haiti building collapse

November 10, 2008 5:27pm
MANILA, Philippines - Filipino peacekeepers are helping in the search and rescue operations in the school building collapse in Port-au-Prince in Haiti, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) reported on Monday.

The DFA got word of the effort from Ambassador Hilarion G. Davide Jr., Philippine Permanent Representative to the United Nations.

"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," Davide reported to the DFA.

A total of 157 officers and enlisted personnel from the Philippine Army, Navy, and Air Force, as well as 13 other officers from the Philippine National Police, are serving with the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH).

According to a Palace statement, Second Secretary Elmer G. Cato, press officer of the 8th Philippine Peacekeeping contingent, said the Filipinos under Col. Raymundo Elefante proceeded to the scene of the tragedy in Pétionville shortly after the three-story La Promesse School collapsed on Friday (November 7).

The Filipino peacekeepers are working alongside blue helmets from Brazil, Chile, and Ecuador as well as Haiti police, Cato said.

Davide said several Filipinos were instrumental in the recovery of nine victims who survived the tragedy.

He reported that Colonel Elefante led two platoons of Filipino peacekeepers under Air Force Capt. Rony Cubar and Army Maj. Donald Hongitan in the search and rescue efforts.

The Filipino peacekeepers were also "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," the DFA statement added.

"Our peacekeepers went beyond the call of duty and put their own lives at risk," Davide said.

As of Monday morning (Manila time) the death toll has climbed to 88 as rescuers continued frantic efforts to rescue more students believed to be trapped under the tons of concrete rubble.

In the two days of rescues, parents clutched pictures of their children as they watched rescue workers sidestep human limbs sticking out from the rubble.

Riot police chased away several Haitians who found their way past police barriers and tried to excavate the site themselves, the Associated Press reported.

Initial investigation pointed to the poor construction of the school building as the likely culprit for the collapse.

The AP report said roughly 500 students typically had been holding a party on the day of the collapse. The students were not wearing uniforms at that time, thus complicating efforts to identify their bodies.

Fortin Augustin, the preacher who owns and built College La Promesse in suburban Port-au-Prince, was arrested late Saturday and charged with involuntary manslaughter, said police spokesman Garry Desrosier.

Haiti, the poorest and most politically tumultuous country in the Western Hemisphere, has struggled this year to recover from riots over rising food prices and a string of hurricanes and tropical storms that killed nearly 800 people.

The Philippines has maintained a presence in Haiti since 2004 when the United Nations sent peacekeepers to restore order in the impoverished Caribbean nation following massive protests against former President Jean Bertrand Aristide.

In 2005, the Philippines lost one peacekeeper after gunmen loyal to former Haiti President Jean Betrand-Aristide ambushed UN peacekeepers and killed Army TSgt. Antonio Batomalaque. - GMANews.TV