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Monday, June 15, 2009

JSOTF-P, Philippine military rebuilding schools burned by Abu Sayyaf Group

Petty Officer 1st Class Fletcher Gibson
Joint Special Operations Task Force – Philippines Public Affairs

SUMISIP, Basilan -- The Joint Special Operations Task Force – Philippines is partnering with Philippine Navy SEABEES to rebuild two schools in Central Sumisip on the island of Basilan that were burned to the ground by the Abu Sayyaf terrorist group in late March.

Members of the ASG torched Erelley and Sitio Obal Elementary Schools March 28, 2009, reportedly in retaliation for the town’s past cooperation with the Armed Forces of the Philippines.

The reconstruction is a joint effort between JSOTF-P, the AFP’s National Development Support Command and the Philippine Navy’s Mobile Construction Battalion 1. The three organizations worked together to assess the proposed project and develop plans, with JSOTF-P providing the funding and materials to back the AFP’s construction efforts.

“There was extensive fire damage,” said U.S. Navy Cmdr. Leonard Schilling, the senior engineer for JSOTF-P. “The schools need significant repair. We’re glad to be able to support this project to ensure the children in Sumisip can get a good education.”

The NDSC estimates the construction will take about 10-12 weeks to complete. In the meantime, the construction battalion has built a temporary shelter for the two schools’ nearly 600 students and teachers to meet.

As school construction progresses, the U.S. civil affairs team leader on Basilan said that it’s the children who are paying the biggest price for ASG’s actions.

“It’s inconceivable what the ASG could hope to gain by burning down schools,” said U.S. Army Capt. Charlie Claypool, the officer in charge of JSOTF-P’s Civil Affairs Team 734, which works alongside the AFP to conduct civil-military operations on Basilan. “There is no ideology – political, religious or otherwise that could justify it and nothing to be gained except for further alienating the population.”

Claypool said that he’s been pleased with the level of cooperation between the AFP and the local government to make this project a reality. While the AFP refurbishes the buildings, he said the local mayor has begun planning for a project to level the roads leading to Sumisip, which are showing extensive rutting from rain and heavy use.

Once the new schools are up and running, the students will be set up for success thanks to the United States Agency for International Development, which is donating desks and textbooks to both schools.

At the invitation of the Philippine government, JSOTF-P supports the Philippine Armed Forces in defeating terrorist groups such as Abu Sayyaf Group and Jemaah Islamiya in the southern Philippines and in preventing these groups from establishing safe havens from which to train other terrorists.

JSOTF-P carries out this mission by sharing information, conducting tactical training programs with the AFP, and by supporting a wide range of civil military operations, including medical and engineering projects that benefit local populations.

In 2008 alone, the AFP-U.S. partnership completed more than 70 infrastructure projects across the Southern Philippines, including new schools, roads, piers, water wells, and medical centers.

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