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Pinoy peacekeepers trapped in Haiti buildings

MANILA, Philippines – Filipino troops detailed as peacekeepers in Haiti were trapped inside a collapsed building housing the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Port-au-Prince following a massive quake that devastated the Caribbean nation yesterday morning.

Other Filipino peacekeepers rushed to the scene to dig out their comrades and other UN workers from the ruins of the seven-story building, according to the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA).

Reporting to the DFA, the Philippine Mission in the United Nations said it could not determine at this point if there were any casualties among members of the Philippine military and police contingents.

“It said it could not account for all of the Filipino peacekeeping personnel as its only source of information was UN Headquarters in New York, which was only able to establish contact with MINUSTAH officials via satellite phones,” the DFA said.

Lt. Col. Romeo Brawner Jr., Armed Forces public information chief, also did not know the exact number of soldiers trapped in the rubble.

However, a majority of the 155-strong Filipino peacekeeping contingent have been evacuated, he added.

Quoting the Philippine Mission, the DFA said Lt. Col. Lope Dagoy, Philippine peacekeeping contingent in Haiti commander, informed the Armed Forces Peacekeeping Operations Center based in Camp O’Donnell in Capas, Tarlac that he was trying to account for all of his troops.

Dagoy borrowed a satellite phone to call his wife in Manila and asked her to relay to military headquarters that all Filipino peacekeepers are safe, the DFA added.

After Dagoy made the call at about 8:55 a.m. yesterday, all lines went dead, according Brawner.

The DFA said Senior Superintendent Rodolfo Fuentes, Philippine police contingent commander, was also able to establish contact with his superiors in the Philippines via the Internet.

Fuentes reported that he and several other peacekeepers were safe in the UN Logistics Base near the Port-au-Prince International Airport, the DFA added.

At least three other areas in the capital where Filipino peacekeepers are assigned sustained serious damage from the earthquake, according to the Philippine Mission.

The DFA has instructed the Philippine Mission in the UN, as well as the Philippine embassy in Havana, Cuba, to check on the condition of the Filipino community in Haiti.

The Philippine mission is trying to establish contact with the Philippine peacekeeping contingent in Haiti.

Ed Malaya, DFA spokesman, said the government has not yet been able to establish contact with Dagoy.

“Of course we are very concerned,” he said.

Apart from the 157 Filipino troops and 20 police officers serving as peacekeepers, an undetermined number of Filipino civilians also work for the UN in Haiti.

Two Filipino military observers are also deployed in Haiti under the direct supervision of the United Nations Peacekeeping Operations.

The Filipino peacekeepers belong to the 10th Philippine Contingent to Haiti deployed last August for a six-month tour of duty.

About 447 Filipino civilians are also working in the Caribbean nation.

The Philippines does not have a resident diplomatic mission in Port-au-Prince, Malaya said.

An earthquake measuring 7.0 rocked Haiti on Tuesday, toppling buildings and triggering fears that hundreds had been killed.

The headquarters of the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti was reduced to rubble in the quake. – With Jaime Laude

By Pia Lee-Brago
First published in “The Philippine Star”
January 14, 2010

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