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Monday, August 9, 2010

RP, US soldiers build training camp for Sulu youths

By Elena Aben, Manila Bulletin

Philippine Marines and the United States Seabees have joined hands to give youth in the conflict-stricken island province of Sulu tools to give them reason to dream and build a better future, and at the same time, arm them against extremism, noting that “the only way to win [peace] is to empower the people themselves.”

Thus for the past weeks, elements of the Philippine Marine Battalion Landing Team 6 (MBLT 6) together with US Sailors from the Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines (JSOTF-P) endured the mud, heat, and rain to work side-by-side constructing a new facility on Camp Bud Datu – a barracks for some “very important trainees.”

JSOTF-P public affairs officers revealed the trainees are not soldiers and the training is not in military tactics. The new barracks, it was learned, is an addition to the Tausug Youth Training Camp, a project organized and carried out by the MBLT 6.

The trainees, for whom the facility is being built with the help of US Sailors from Seabee Squad Two, are young Filipino men and women from local municipalities in the island province of Sulu, while the training is seen to provide youth with tools that – in the hopes of Lt. Col. Robert Velasco, MBLT 6 commander – will help them build a better future.

According to Velasco, MBLT 6 has embarked on a youth development training program and the [barracks project for the existing] Tausug Youth Camp is a facility to increase the capacity to teach the youth how to be civic-minded persons and how to be good citizens.

This, as he pointed out only needs to look at simple statistics to ascertain the reason why he, his Marines, and US forces are willing to spend effort on programs to open the window of opportunities for the youth.

Based on a survey done by Social Weather Stations (SWS), Philippine youth – people aged between 15 to 30 – make up more than one-third of the nation’s population and therefore play an important role in the future of the Philippines.

Maj. Gen Juancho Sabban, Philippine Marine Corps Commandant, meanwhile, has said that extremist groups, like the Al Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf, are quick to exploit poverty, lack of education, and minimal government services throughout the Sulu archipelago.

“Education and opportunities for development are the keys to lasting solutions to end the terrorism problem,” said Sabban, a former field commander on the islands of Basilan and Sulu.

Sulu ranks among the bottom five provinces in the country in terms of civic needs such as education, according to a Philippine Human Development Report cited in the Asia Times in July. In the same article, Lt. Gen. Ben Dolorfino, Western Mindanao Command (Wesmincom) commander, compared groups like Abu Sayyaf to a diseased tree, claiming that “military force can only go as far as cutting the branches and removing the leaves, but unless you eliminate the roots, new branches and leaves will grow with time.”

Velasco and fellow Marine commander, Lt. Col. Elias Juson Jr. of the Marine Battalion Landing Team 4 (MBLT 4), attest that eliminating the roots of extremist ideologies starts with education.

“Through education, people will think differently, and instead of fighting, they will work to make their community better,” said Juson.

He added that while many of the civil military operations (CMO) that the Marines are conducting in Sulu include building new schools and renovating old ones, the Tausug Youth Training Camp strives to give young people a different kind of education.

“On the surface, it appears that the Marines of MBLT 6 are providing the same sort of skills that one would expect from any ordinary camp: outdoor skills such as hiking, rappelling, building rope bridges, and the like. A closer look shows that these activities are structured to impart vital tools for building a promising future. These tools include environmental stewardship, responsible citizenship, conflict resolution, tolerance, and cooperation,” said a JSOTF public affairs officer.

Through a partnership with the Confederation of Youth Organizations in Angono, which based in Rizal province, MBLT 6 has hosted school and student government organizations, the Sanguniang Kabataan and both the Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts of the Philippines at the Tausug Youth Training Camp.

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