LEGAZPI CITY, July 13 (PNA) -— Albay Governor Al Francis Bichara hailed and thanked the hospital United States Navy Ship (USNS) for the treatment of more than 3,000 local patients and the construction and repair of schoolbuildings and water facility in some villages in the province.
He expressed his gratitude at Monday’s closing ceremony of the Pacific Partnership 2016, a two-week humanitarian and disaster relief preparedness mission of the hospital ship United States Navy Ship (USNS) Mercy docked at waters off Albay Gulf, some five kilometers from this city’s port.
The vessel, which is equipped with an emergency room, X-ray room, CT Scan, Intensive Care Unit and blood bank, provided surgical services to the patients such as general surgery, hernia, bone realignment, cataract operations and cleft plate.
Its staff of 600 medical personnel, including nine doctors, nurses, technicians and support staff provided neurological examinations, pediatric, internal medicine, radiology, dental and eye health and dental services.
Bichara also acknowledged the mission’s joint team of engineers, who finished construction works of two-classroom school buildings with comfort rooms, including repair works of other classrooms in Barangay Cotmon, in Camalig town and in Barangay Kinawitan in Daraga town.
He also cited the completion of a water tank and lavatory at the elementary school in Barangay Mabini, also in Daraga.
During the same event, Bichara remembered the first visit of the mercy ship, which came right after typhoon Sisang slammed Albay in November 1987 and “crumpled the province like a piece of paper.”
Bichara noted this is the second visit of USNS Mercy to Albay.
“The Mercy was first commissioned here in 1987 at a time when Albay crumpled like a piece of paper,” Bichara told officials of the United States Armed Forces. The governor was congressman of the province’s third district when Sisang hit Albay that time.
He said the governments of the Philippines and U.S. have a long-standing relationship marked by brotherhood and friendship.
Bichara said the USNS Mercy gave hope to the Filipino people, especially Albay, when it came to visit right after Sisang occurred.
After super typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) struck Tacloban City in 2013, experts listing the 10 deadly typhoons on record to have hit the Philippines had included Sisang in the list.
“Mother nature blessed us with a beautiful nature but also blessed us with all types of natural disasters that we have become used to it,” the governor told the visitors.
Located in mainland Bicol peninsula, Albay is also home to the 2,460-meter Mt. Mayon, an active volcano with a nearly perfectly-shaped cone touted to rival the beauty of Japan’s Mt. Fiji but known also for its sometimes deadly episodes of explosions.
Reaffirming how Albay manages to return to normalcy after disasters, Bichara cited the revisiting USNS for rekindling hope in the population of the province, now recorded at 1.4 million.
“The visit of USNS Mercy gave us hope. Your tour here is not the end but a beginning. Make Albay as your home. I wish to see you again not for typhoon relief but to explore the beauty of our province as tourists,” he said.
USNS Mercy (T-AH 19), that departed from Legazpi City on July 11, is now headed to Da Nang, Vietnam for a similar humanitarian mission. Deemed as the world’s biggest hospital ship its home port is San Diego, California. Over 1,000 soldiers from the US Armed Forces with support from its allies from Australia, New Zealand, Canada, United Kingdom, Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea, Japan, along with Filipino counterparts engaged in the mission in Albay.
Since 2006, Pacific Partnership has been the largest annual humanitarian and civic assistance mission in the Indo-Pacific region, according to Rear Admiral Bette Bolivar, the first female Filipino-American commander of the US Naval Command Northwest Region.
Born in Hawaii, Bolivar is of Filipino descent as her father is from Nabua, Camarines Sur while her mother is from Pangasinan.
“I was thrilled to meet and speak to my fellow kababayan (townmates) in Legazpi City,” she said.
Bolivar spoke at a forum in the city that highlighted the issue of gender and development. It was part of the mission’s goal to foster exchanges with various sectors in the local communities they were serving.
The initiative was inspired by a United Nations resolution empowering women by including them in the planning and implementation of disaster preparedness and relief efforts of their countries.
She lauded Commodore Tom Williams, USNS Mercy head, for everything they have accomplished since arriving in Legazpi City.
For his part, Legazpi City Mayor Noel Rosal said the Pacific Partnership recognizes that countries are interdependent of each other, citing the war in Syria that caused an influx of migrants to host countries in Europe and elsewhere in the world.
“It is not so much a question of whether we have the means but a question of whether we have the will,” he said.
Major General Arthur J. Logan, adjutant general, Hawaii Army National Guard of the US Armed Forces, said Albay province is not done dealing with natural disasters but they are now better prepared for whatever comes next.
“Pacific Partnership allows us to prepare during the calm in order to respond in a crisis. We do what we do not for recognition but to enrich each other with our experiences and the Spirit of Aloha,” he said. (PNA) LAP/GVR/RBB/CBD