Category Archives: Career

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.

2020 is ‘Year of Filipino Health Workers’

We have so many things to thank for our frontliners. They have done and sacrificed so much including their own safety in order to fulfill their duties to their patients.

This year, the government is recognizing the heroism and self-compassion of medical workers in the country amid the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid19) pandemic by declaring 2020 as the “Year of Filipino Health Workers” through Proclamation 976 signed by President Rodrigo Duterte.

https://ph.asiatatler.com/

Duterte signed Proclamation 976 on July 6, as he noted that the Covid-19 crisis has posed a daunting challenge to the country’s health sector.

“There is a need to commemorate the immeasurable acts of heroism and selfless compassion of nurses, midwives, and all health workers, and give due honor to those who sacrificed their lives in the line of service, especially during this extraordinary time,” he said in the proclamation.

Under the presidential proclamation, the Department of Health (DOH) is tasked to lead, coordinate, and supervise the nationwide observance of the Year of Filipino Health Workers.

All other government agencies and instrumentalities, including government-owned or -controlled corporations and state universities and colleges, are directed to assist DOH in implementing Proclamation 976.

All local government units, business communities, relevant civil society groups, and professional organizations are likewise enjoined to participate and support the DOH to ensure the effective implementation of the proclamation.

Proclamation 976 also encourages all national and local publications, television networks, and radio stations to promote awareness and generate public support for the programs and activities relative to the celebration of the Year of Filipino Health Workers.

“The State recognizes the invaluable contributions of nurses, midwives, and all other health workers, as the backbone of the country’s health system, whether in promoting health consciousness, performing essential medical and health services, or responding to health crises in various situations,” the order read.

“Thousands of Filipino health workers, who comprise a major component of the nation’s labor force, selflessly and tirelessly provide essential, quality, and critical care to individuals, families, and groups, even in the face of great peril, fear, uncertainty, and vulnerability,” it added.

As of today (October 17, 2020), the Philippines has recorded 352,000 Covid19 infections, with 295,000 recoveries and 6,531 deaths.

Doctor of calamities

I’m reposting this article I wrote in 2004 about a doctor whose main mission in life is to assist people affected by calamities. One unforgettable story he shared was the medical mission in the typhoon-ravaged areas in Quezon Province in 2004.

FROM the 1990 killer earthquake in Baguio, Rizal Day Bombing in Manila to the aftermath of Typhoons “Winnie” and “Yoyong” in Quezon Province, Dr. Romeo Bituin has been there to help the dying and survivors of calamities.

The 47-year-old coordinator of Dr. Jose Fabella Memorial Hospital to the Health Emergency Management Staff (HEMS) of the Department of Health, Dr. Bituin or simply “Starsky” to colleagues, has always felt the need to be in places where disasters took place.

“Hindi ko alam kung bakit dinadala ako ng Diyos kung saan may disaster,” Bituin initially told People’s Tonight.

Photo by Hush Naidoo on Unsplash

To the man who has been in the medical profession for more than two decades now, no special occasion would delay the call of duty, not even his birthday.

So in the morning of Dec. 4, even before he could plan things for his 47th birthday, Bituin was flying with two male nurses and a utility personnel to the typhoon-ravaged areas of Quezon on board a military chopper to bring medicine and treat evacuees from several affected barangays in Infanta.

“When we left for Quezon, walang nakakaalam na birthday ko. Nagspend ako for the first time ng birthday ko sa disaster area. Ang sabi nga ni Dr. (Carmencita) Banatin, chief of HEMS,’ang swerte mo…ang dami mong natulungan sa birthday mo’,” the teary-eyed anesthesiologist said.

“Sometimes parang naging emotional ka rin doon (Infanta, Quezon)… masuwerte tayong mga taga- Manila hindi natin naranasan ang ganon pero nagrereklamo tayo sa baha lang. Baha lang ‘yon pwede kang lumangoy…sa mud hindi ka makakalangoy…mamamatay talaga ang tao,” he said while trying to control his emotions.

Bituin and his three companions were the first group of medical personnel deployed by the DOH at the height of typhoon “Yoyong” in Quezon.

“From Camp Gen. Nakar inairlift kami papuntang Infanta. It was one of the hardest hit ng typhoon. At least 29 out of 36 barangays in Infanta were affected. Sa Gen. Nakar at Real, may portions of road na pwedeng daanan, may ac cessible road na pwedeng dumaan ang tricycle. Sa Infanta wala, ang putik hanggang tuhod. Paglapag ng chopper, iba na ang amoy ng paligid. Masangsang… malansa… normal na sangsang ng patay. Marami raw na buried sa mud pero hindi nila alam kung saan,” said Bituin as he described the place.

Barefooted evacuees ran agog to the waiting helicopter for safety. But patients needing urgent medical attention were given priority to be airlifted to evacuation sites.

Bituin, being the leader of the four-man team, requested military personnel to secure the gym where they put up the makeshift treatment center and where team from the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) handed out relief goods. Barangay officials assisted the group in listing down patients with priority needs.

The medical team from DOH provided antibiotics, anti-venom, anti-tetanus, IV fluids to patients needing them.

For four days, Dr. Bituin’s group attended to children who are severely dehydrated, patients with loose bowel movement caused by acute gastroenteritis due to lack of potable water supply, persons with punctured wound, lacerated wound in the eye and head, trauma, fractures, dog bites and snake bites.

“Ang mga evacuees kung ano ‘yung damit na suot nila nang marescue sila, ‘yun pa rin ‘yung suot-suot nila habang nagpapagamot sila,” Bituin recounted as he shook his head in dismay. “Siguro ang importante sa ngayon kung paano sila mabubuhay, ‘yung hindi sila magkakasakit.”

Bituin’s group also managed to help local hospital personnel run the lone health facility in the area, which is about a kilometer away from the gym near the Poblacion. The groups make do with available hospital equipments left of the flood aftermath. The nurses were able to save only a handful gadget since they primarily move the patients to higher portion of the hospital.

The hospital also served said as their place of rest at night.

“Main mission namin kung paano mapapatakbo uli ang hospital. Ang Infanta lang ang may district hospital. During normal times before the disaster sa Infanta dinadala ang mga pasyente coming from Real and Gen. Nakar. Walang electricity at tubig sa hospital. Walang linen. There was no communication at all in the area,” Bituin recalled.

“Mahirap din ang paglalakad sa municipality proper. Walang means of transportation. Ang mahirap doon may mga equipment ka pang dala at pasyente na kailangang i-evacuate to safer ground,” he said.

Bituin and the nurses settled with their meager food provision and sometimes relief foods given by evacuees themselves.

“For four days wala kaming lunch, we find time to eat late lunch and early dinner at every 5 p.m. Hindi ka makakaramdam ng gutom dahil ang gusto mo makapunta ka agad sa pupuntahan mong lugar. The city mayor was kind enough to assist us during our mission in Infanta,” he said.

Bituin, who granted the interview, before the emergency meeting of HEMS coordinators held at the East Avenue Medical Center last Friday, said that epidemic was indeed looming in the affected areas as he observed the lack of potable water supply and proper excreta disposal for both human and solid waste.

“Nang umalis kami marami na ang nagcocomplain ng acute gastroenteritis, matanda at mga bata,” he said.

The former military doctor said that as of last week two more response teams from the DOH composed of epidemiologists and sanitary engineers arrived in Quezon to help.

“Kumpleto na ang mga tao na nagsusurveillance ng mga sakit doon,” Bituin said.

The medicine graduate at the Perpetual Help College in Binan, Laguna, said that aside from medicine and food supplies, survivors need psychological help from experts.

“Kawawa ang mga tao doon, naglalakad sila ng nakatungo. May psychological impact sa kanila ang mga pangyayari. Kailangan nilang ma-debrief. We already sent people from the National Center for Mental Health (NCMH) para iaddress ang depression at anxiety ng mga tao. Lalo na kung umuulan ng malakas…’yung mga tao takot na takot kasi baka bumaha daw ulit, ganun na ganon daw ang nangyari bago magkalandslide,” he said.

Bituin, who had disaster management trainings in the United Kingdom and the United States in 2001 and 2002 respectively, said that each person who survived the landslide and flood had harrowing experience to share.

“Nagtulungan sila,” referring to survivors, “‘Yung iba hinigit nila sa baha mula sa bubong ng bahay. Kahit hindi nila kakilala tinutulungan nila. Kaya marami rin sa kanila ang nakasurvive hindi kagaya sa Ormoc. Karamihan kasi ng bahay sa Ormoc noon ay gawa sa light materials. Sa Quezon, karamihan ng bahay ay may second floor kaya nakaakyat ang iba sa bubong ng bahay,” he noted.

The doctor from Fabella Hospital also shared what he learned from emergency management.

“Presence of mind is important. Ang unang isesave mo ay buhay hindi gamit. Dapat alam ng mga tao kung ano ang mga gagawin in times of natural calamities. May areas na dapat kung saan magkikita sa oras ng emergency. Dapat may mga drills, exercises for any kind of event gaya ng Iindo!, baha at landslides. Time is important… kailangan mabilisan,” he said.

For fellow medical workers in the same line of mission, Bituin has this advise: “Ang pinakaimportante huwag silang makalimot magdasal… ‘yung pakikipagkapwa-tao especially during these times. Dapat marunong kang makisama sa tao. Hindi lang para makiemphatize, kailangan may ginagawa ka rin.”

He further said, “Personnally, na-enhance ng experience ko sa Quezon ang kahalagahan ng pakikipagkapwa-tao. For every disaster or incident na napuntahan ko, there is a new experience, new lesson na nakakapagpadagdag sa wisdom mo. Although sometimes, kapag naaalala ko ‘yung mga nakita ko doon, nagiging emotional ako. Hindi ko maiwasan ang maluha para sa mga nasalanta sa Quezon.”

When asked if he would go back to Infanta for another medical assignment, Bituin simply smiled and said, “I’m planning to go back there next week. I’ll show the people there I’m true to my words. Gusto kong makita na masaya na uli sila , hindi na umiiyak, hindi na depressed.” – Miriam V. Torrecampo

December 26, 2004

The same article is also found in my other blog www.penname30.com