SUMISIP, Philippines (May 26, 2011) Dozens of Armed Forces Philippines (AFP) soldiers partnered with provincial veterinarians and Joint Special Operations Task Force Philippines (JSOTF-P) personnel to host a veterinary civic action program (VETCAP) in Sumisip, in the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao, May 26.
AFP soldiers helped local residents set up a staging area on the grounds of San Vicente Ferrer Church for the hundreds of domestic farm animals and pets assembled for the event.
Philippine Department of Agriculture veterinarians educated the crowds of farmers and AFP soldiers on preventive care and proper immunization techniques, while JSOTF-P Sailors and Marines including a U.S. Army veterinarian provided much of the deworming vaccines, vitamins and antiseptics used during the event.
In the Sumisip area of southern Basilan, professional animal care is virtually non-existent, despite the fact that livestock is a critical part of the local economy. William Jason, a local resident who owns three goats, explained that the nearest veterinarian is in Isabela City, almost 25 km away.
“I am very thankful to the AFP for bringing the vet here,” he said. “We are really behind in the animal industry, especially farmers like me, with only three goats, or one cattle, or one caribou. If one of my goats gets sick, I don’t know how to treat it, or what to give it. I would rather slaughter it and sell it than call the vet.”
The provincial veterinarians also walked through the town, searching for farmers who may not have heard about the event, or not had the opportunity to show up at the church.
“It’s personally fulfilling when you’re able to serve and help your own people,” said Dr. Zurhayda Tawasil-Aguisada, a Basilan provincial veterinarian. “It is our duty and responsibility as provincial veterinarians to show our farmers how to treat their animals themselves, and teach them steps they can take to have healthier, more productive livestock and pets, free from internal and external parasites, because we need the meat from these animals for local consumption.”
VETCAPS are also a significant opening for AFP soldiers, who are able to show rural residents a more comprehensive view of how the military can serve the Filipino people, and their willingness to help the barangay safeguard local incomes.
“This is very important to the AFP because it allows them to interact with the LGUs (local government units) in these communities that are under-served, conduct community service projects, talk to the people and find out what their concerns are,” explained the U.S. Army veterinarian.
“I am very proud and happy that the AFP brought the vets to our community,” said Alonto Bahitla, whose carabou experienced veterinary care for the first time during the event. “We can see the other face of the AFP now, that a soldier is not just for combat.”
The AFP soldiers led by 1LT Glendon Hubag, and JSOTF-P personnel, hope to eventually have a regular, six-week rotation of VETCAPs throughout the Mindanao province, in an effort to show residents that AFP and US forces are concerned about their health, welfare and livelihood, and degrade the influence of lawless groups.