International Day of UN Peacekeepers 2022

The Armed Forces of the Philippines commemorates the bravery and sacrifices of all uniformed personnel assigned as United Nations Peacekeepers on this International Day of UN Peacekeepers for peace and security of the world. #AFPyoucanTRUST

Photo and text lifted from the AFP Page

In observance of the International Day of the UN Peacekeepers this year, I’m reposting an article based on my interview with former Technical Sergeant Noel Añain, who served as part of the Philippine peacekeeping force in Haiti.

Añain at the UN Headquarters in Haiti during his deployment in 2005

Prayer and Bulletproof Vest in Haiti

Prayer and a bulletproof vest were Technical Sergeant Noel Añain’s best weapons while he was deployed in violent-stricken Haiti for six months as part of the 200-man peacekeeping mission.

“Natatakot din ako kasi ang baril doon nagkalat…Nagiingat na lang tsaka suot ko parati ang bulletproof vest ko,” Añain said when asked how he felt about the street fighting and rampant kidnapping incidents in Haiti.

Añain, whose group arrived in Haiti last January, said that not less than 20 people are killed in crossfire between warring groups comprising mostly of young natives.

“Itong April (2006), election ng Presidente medyo natahimik kaya puro patrolling ang ginagawa namin. Nang hindi nila (natives) nagustuhan ang nanalo laganap na naman ang gulo at kidnapping. Matindi doon mga bata pa ang involved (gang members),” said the 43-year-old member of the Marine Security and Escort Group in Fort Bonifacio.

The kidnapping activities were reportedly manned by former military personnel who were booted out from their post when the provisional government took place.

“Ang dati nilang military na naabolish ang mga nangingidnap doon. Sila ang mga gangs ngayon doon. Puro gang war, street fighting. Kaya malas ka kapag inabot ka ng crossfire. Madami na ngang namamatay na locals,” Añain recalled.

He said about 20 people, including two Filipinos, have been kidnapped last May. The two men were released after a Filipino community paid the kidnappers $6,000 in exchange for their freedom.

Añain or Noel to family and friends was assigned to provide security to a United Nations diplomat billeted at the Christopher Hotel-turned-headquarters in Port-AU-Prince.

The other members of the Philippine Contingent are posted in other government facilities, some do clerical jobs, while others are assigned to the transport section of the UN headquarters.

The UN diplomats are providing security to a provisional government installed after President Jean-Bertrand Aristide fled into exile under international pressure.

The peacekeeping team from the Philippines and other member countries of the UN are helping curb the violence and restore stability in Haiti.

“Naka-assign ako as security at escort sa bahay ng representative ni Koffi Anan sa Christopher Hotel sa Port-AU-Prince. Ginawang headquarters ang hotel at dose kaming military ang naka-post doon,” said Añain who belongs to the third batch of the contingent.

The native of Binangonan, Rizal has been serving the Philippine Marines for the last 20 years. His deployment in Haiti was an added experience as it improves his personal and professional growth.

Despite the danger his new assignment entails, Noel had accepted the job to augment his family income. He’s been receiving P19,000 or less monthly including allowances. His salary in Haiti is triple that amount.

“Number one ang kumita dahil puro loan ang marami dito sa amin,” Noel tells about his motivation to apply for the post.

“Maraming gustong mag-apply mahirap lang talagang pumasok marami kang dadaanan. Sa small unit magsisimulang maghanap…parang Grade 1 sa simula marami kayo, pabawas ng pabawas habang tumaas ang level of training. Lahat ng post for deliberation. Ang matitira at makakapasa sa training ‘yon ang ipapadala…,” he added.

Añain takes pride in how well Filipino contingents are appreciated by UN diplomats as well as their foreign counterparts from Brazil, Jordan, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Argentina, the U.S., Morocco, and Hungary.

“Gustong-gusto ng UN ang mga Filipino sa headquarters kasi nga madali tayong mag-adapt ng mga wikang ginagamit doon gaya ng English, Spanish, French. Pero kung kinakapos ka naman ng English, senyas lang ay okay na. Ganun ang mga Filipino madaling mag-adapt,” he mused.

One experience that will be forever etched in Añain’s memory was how natives of Haiti beg for food to survive a day.

“Nakakaawa ang mga tao doon…tag-gutom sila…kapag makikita ka nila pagkain ang idinadaing nila sasabihin `no food’. Kaya kahit bawal na magbigay ng pagkain na supply ng UN binibigyan namin,” he said.

Many business establishments were forced to close because of the escalating violence in Haiti leaving thousands of people jobless. And joblessness drives many natives to resort to kidnapping and other illegal activities.

Añain is also saddened by the death of a fellow contingent from the Philippine Army who was killed by a sniper while performing his job.

“Dalawa silang naka-duty, sine-secure nila ang isang VIP nang barilin sila ng isang sniper. Namatay on the spot ‘yung isa samantalang nakaligtas naman ‘yung isa pa dahil sa vest niya tumama ‘yung bala,” he said.

More troops will be deployed in Haiti until the situation normalizes, Añain said.

When asked if he’s willing to go back to Haiti, he replies: “Willing naman akong bumalik, parang dito rin naman sa Pilipinas basta mag-ingat ka lang.”

For those who are willing to work as part of another peace keeping mission, the true-blue soldier has this advice: “Basta sumunod ka lang sa utos kung naka-duty ka. Gawin mo lang ang trabaho ng bukal sa puso mo para hindi ka mahirapan. Makakaraos din eh (smiles).”

This was originally published by People’s Tonight and posted on my other blog.

Lung Center of the Philippines: 321 Filipinos Die Every Day Due to Tobacco

Groups urge ‘stronger tobacco control to save lives

“Tobacco control saves lives.” 

This was the message of the state tertiary hospital Lung Center of the Philippines on Tuesday during an art installation of 321 pairs of shoes and slippers in their main lobby to commemorate the 321 Filipinos who die every day due to tobacco-related diseases. 

Lung Center of the Philippines installs 321 pairs of shoes to commemorate 321 Filipino deaths daily due to tobacco.

“We need an ecosystem of policies that will make it easier for Filipinos to quit the deadly habit of smoking,” said Dr. Jessica Catalan-Legarda, Chair for Advocacy of the Lung Center of the Philippines. The art installation is part of the hospital’s World No Tobacco Day activities

“Raising taxes on tobacco products and banning their advertising, promotions, and sponsorships are just some of the policies needed to create a healthier environment for Filipinos,” she added. 

“Quitting smoking is not just a matter of personal responsibility,” said Dr. Glynna Ong-Cabrera, Lung Center of the Philippines’ Smoking Cessation Program Manager and Department of Health (DOH) Quitline Project Director. “Every day, 321 Filipinos die because tobacco companies continue to sell and market their addictive and deadly products,” she said. “Tobacco products are designed to make it difficult for smokers to quit, putting them at risk to develop tobacco-related diseases which may eventually lead to death,” she also said. 

Public interest law group ImagineLaw, co-organizer of the art installation, maintained that “tobacco companies’ business model thrives on addiction and death”. 

“Tobacco companies are neither our friends nor allies,” said Atty. Sophia San Luis, the law group’s executive director. “As we enter into a new administration, we urge our new set of leaders to be vigilant and reject any attempt by the tobacco industry to prevent the implementation or worse, roll back life-saving tobacco control measures,” she said. 

The art installation composed of 321 pairs of footwear is open for viewing until Friday, June 3, 2022.

The Right of Suffrage (National Election 2022)

Casting our votes on election day was a breeze, except for the long queue of voters, which was understandable. There were no untoward incidents in our precinct, thankfully. Everything was in order. We (hubby and the kids) may be in line for nearly two hours, but the voting process took us only a few minutes to complete.

We are proud to claim that majority of our candidates have won the national election, including our presidential and vice-presidential bets.

Best of luck to our elected president and vice president. May you and all the newly-elected senators and other officials succeed in your goals to guide the country on a better path. We are counting on you. #halalan2022 #betterphilippines