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Joint Special Operations Task Force - Philippines
LANAO DEL SUR, Philippines – 05.12.2010 In the rolling valleys and rugged terrain along the base of the Butig Mountains in the southern Philippines, a small Philippine and U.S. medical team, in conjunction with students from Mindanao State University, improves the lives of residents by providing herd health treatments to their animals.
The small joint medical team uses a unique method to decrease safe havens for terrorist and lawless groups: one animal at a time.
Over a four day period, the Philippine and American soldiers and college student volunteers would treat more than 450 farm animals. The effect is the improved health of the animals. The healthier the animal, the more they produce and are capable of work. Healthy and productive animals improve the lives of each family in this area.
"In order for economic prosperity to occur, there needs to be a secure environment for which development projects can mature," said Lt. Gen. Ben Dolorfino, Western Mindanao commander, Armed Forces of the Philippines.
Since 2002, 15 of 24 names of the Philippine most-wanted in Mindanao have been either been captured or killed by Philippine forces. Philippine forces have partnered with American forces to conduct training and aid projects. The training assist the Philippine military efforts in combat and the aid projects help to decrease local support of lawless groups.
"The Philippine and U.S. forces employ a comprehensive approach to secure an environment that encourages development. This approach, coupled with security and development, establish the dynamic to eliminate enemy safe havens and areas for recruitment," said Dolorfino, the joint commander of Philippine forces in Western Mindanao.
The four-day veterinarian civic action programs were held, April 11 – 14, in five different barangays (neighborhood) in Lanao Del Sur: Kapatagan, Mananayo, Matling, Picong, and Masui.
"The Philippine Department of Agriculture, Armed Forces of the Philippines, and Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines are doing a campaign of agricultural education," said Lt. Col. Stephen Goldsmith, JSOTF-P veterinarian. "In this situation we provide livestock with basic animal treatment for parasite problems, which are severe in the Philippines, and vitamins that help with then vitamin deficiencies, which are related to nutritional deficiencies," he said.
Many residents of the barangay watched as the military veterinary team and students treated farm animals with medications for parasite control and provided vitamin treatments. "On behalf of the barangay, we are thankful that the Philippine and U.S. Armies are here and treating our animals," said Acmad Malawai, spokesperson for the Mananayo barangay.
"It is important to have healthy animals because these animals help the farmers do all the work," Malawai said. With no local private veterinarians and few department of agricultural personnel, professional animal care is virtually non-existent in southern Mindanao, making the need for these services vital for the livelihood of the animals and success of the farmers, but also the community. The veterinarian team emphasized the importance of farmers learning to treat animals themselves, and steps they can take to have healthier, more productive livestock.
The AFP and U.S. vets, SF medics, and students treated 473 farm animals over four days, including 116 goats, 125 pigs, 26 cows, 22 chickens, 17 caribou, five horses, and 149 dogs, improving the health of the livestock for farmers who depend on animals for their livelihood.
"We are giving two different parasite medications to treat intestinal worms and liver flukes that are common in the Philippines, as well as, external parasites like ticks, lice and mites," stated Goldsmith. "These parasites suck a lot of blood and nutrients out of the animals, which prevent them from developing properly, affect their reproductive health, their growth, and productivity of their livestock."
Typical Filipino farmers have three to four animals and they can't afford the medications. For these farmers, they would have to form a co-operative and pool their resources.
"The people are happy to have a veterinarian here today because most of the animals have not been treated by a veterinarian." said Paterno Gonzales Jr. assistance vice president for Agriculture Operations for Matling Industry. Gonzales has lived in Matling for 26 years.
While the VETCAP focus is on livestock, the Philippine and U.S. Army teams and students provide anti-rabies vaccinations to dogs and cats. For the Matling barangay, rabies impacted the residents directly. Gonzales mentioned that Matling suffered two fatalities last years. "Two small children were bitten by dogs that had rabies and died," he said.
Dr. Francisco Alivio, rabies coordinator of the Philippine Department of Health, said rabies continues to be a public problem in the Philippines. There are between 200 and 300 deaths per year from rabies and dogs remain the principal carrier of rabies. Majority of rabies victim are children less than 15-years-old.
"Cases of rabies in children increased compared to last years," Alivio said. "Children are most vulnerable to rabies," he added.
Whenever the AFP and JSOTF-P are out in the community, they also attempt to vaccinate dogs with anti-rabies vaccinations.
"We are trying to improve the contact with the AFP, MSU and Department of Agriculture with the farmers at the lowest level; the ones that need it the most," noted Goldsmith. "It is not our mission to do all these things, the infrastructure is here, we are just facilitating getting everybody to work toward the same goal."
These efforts, with the support and assistance from the AFP and MSU, are part of the long-term strategy to develop viable socioeconomic atmospheres in communities throughout the islands of Mindanao.
"We are helping the health of the animals which helps the economic status of the people who own the animals," Goldsmith explained while injecting medicines into cows. "We also try to educate farmers to understand this is something they need to do on a regular basis for the overall health of their animals, and that they can do a lot of this themselves with the help of the Government of the Philippines Department of Agriculture and MSU College of Agriculture."
Once security is provided, the next step is helping individuals and local communities improve socioeconomic opportunities, which limit the terrorist and lawless groups influence among the residents.
"As part of a synchronized strategy to erode safe havens in Mindanao, the Philippine army works with government and nongovernment organizations to support education, medical, and construction projects," said Philippine Army Col. Demy Tejares, Western Mindanao Command Assistant Chief of Staff for Operations.
"Insurgency starts where good roads end," he continued. Tejares, who has served in the Philippine Army for 27 years and led troops in Basilan and Sulu, mentioned that where there are good roads, there is development, and development brings peace and harmony. In this case, healthy and productive farm animals metaphorically represent the road.
The secondary impacts of VETCAPs are more stability and less of a reason for the people to feel like they don't have any other options than to fight. The projects help give farmers an opportunity to make a living in own area without having to move to another area to support themselves and their family. This provides them with an investment in their area and they feel part of the community.
"Overall, this program will help their economic stability as a family. If you have stable families, then you have stable communities," Goldsmith stated.
For the Philippine Marine Corps Commandant Maj. Gen. Juancho Sabban, the Philippine marines and their American counterparts must continue to engage the local communities in order to win the overall campaign against terrorism. In an interview with the Washington Times, Sabban stated that poverty needs to be replaced by opportunity for economic development for sustained eradication of terrorist groups.
"The campaign against terror is ongoing and can't be resolved by military action," said Sabban. Sabban has been a field commander on the islands of Basilan and Sulu, where combat operations against terrorism have occurred.
"Education and opportunities for development are the keys to lasting solutions to end the terrorism problem," he said.
VETCAPs are only one small, yet very important, part of AFP and JSOTF-P's integrated mission in the Philippines. AFP and JSOTF-P have combined efforts to assist with 40 construction projects, provide medical care to more over 4,000 Mindanao residents, and conduct more than 91 training events in 2010 alone.
The two military forces participate in joint humanitarian projects to improve the lives of the people.
These activities, when combined together, help to shrink terrorist groups and eliminate the safe havens in which they are free to operate.
Dolorfino believes the military has more than a combat role, and that the military can be a key factor in peace process in Mindanao. In February, Dolorfino was one of two senior military leaders to receive a special award from the Ateneo Peace and Cultural Institute for his contributions to peace in the southern Philippines.
"Today's soldier should be someone who is not only a warrior but a peace builder; conflict manager; an environmentalist; diplomat; information and economic development expert, rolled into one," he said.
By facilitating joint construction projects to build and improve roads, schools, wells, bridges and medical assistance project, the Philippine and U.S. military provide tangible actions that help assist the local population and lead toward a more peaceful Mindanao.