PUERTO PRINCESA, PALAWAN, Philippines --Barangay Santa Cruz community members with service members from the Armed Forces of the Philippines and U.S. Marines with U.S. Army Civil Affairs attended a groundbreaking ceremony here March 19.

The groundbreaking ceremony is an engineering civic assistance project (ENCAP), part of the humanitarian and civic assistance (HCA) events of Balikatan 2012 (BK12), which means "shoulder-to-shoulder" in Tagalog. The exercise is an annual, combined exercise between the AFP and U.S. forces to enhance interoperability and foster the ability for the two forces to jointly respond quickly and effectively.

The relationship to build the school started almost a year ago, when the U.S. Marines came to Palawan, an island located southwest of mainland Philippines, to start the planning process. Philippine and U.S. planners visited various locations in coordination with local officials to nominate sites to receive an HCA school construction project.

"Santa Cruz elementary school was one of five sites throughout Palawan that received final selection for an HCA construction project. During the nomination process, numerous factors were taken into account, including logistics requirements, a demonstrated need for civic assistance, unit capabilities and training requirements," said U.S. Marine Capt. Amelia Griffith, team leader, Marine Civil Affairs Team, Combined Joint Civil Military Operations Task Force (CJCMOTF).

The Santa Cruz Elementary School is located in Santa Cruz, an agrarian baranga located north of Puerto Princesa. The barangay has more than 1,000 people and the existing school cannot house all the children.

"(BK12 members) answered the need for more building[s] for the students, and they expect more students to come in," said Santa Cruz Barangay captain Catalina Maming, through an interpreter.

In addition to the AFP and U.S. Marines building the school, civil affairs plays a valuable role in BK12. They interact with the local populace and advise the military leadership on the needs of the community and its people.

"CA is utilized to leverage each relationship between the command and every individual, group and organization in the local community to achieve the desired effect," said Griffith.

Attending the groundbreaking, were the children, faculty of the Santa Cruz elementary school, the local community leaders, as well as the leaders of BK12's CJCMOTF, AFP Navy Capt. Rosauro Sarmiento, and deputy commander, U.S. Army Col. Philip W. Young. The two leaders are responsible for the HCA portion of BK12 on Palawan, which includes five ENCAPs, school building projects and six medical civic assistance projects (MEDCAP).

"This school belongs to very (underprivileged) people with many students in one room," said Faly Romueldeo, member, board of directors, Santa Cruz Elementary School. "It's very encouraging now for [the children] to attend classes now because of this new building."

The school building will include a water catchment system that allows the occupants to utilize the frequent rainfall of the barangay for purposes like flushing water in toilets. The AFP and U.S. Marine engineers will also install a new septic system to handle the growing needs of the school, said U.S. Marine 1st Lt. Justin King, detachment officer in charge, Marine Wing Support Squadron 172, 1st Marine Aircraft Wing.

"This project will be 50 percent [AFP] Seabees and 50 percent [U.S.] Marines," said King.

Community and CJCMOTF leaders tossed coins and stones into the foundation, as part of the traditional Palawan groundbreaking ceremony called Pundasyon. The stones represent the foundation of the building, and the coins represent a wish for good luck.

Projected completion for all ENCAP sites are scheduled from April 23 to 27.

Page last updated Sat March 24th, 2012 at 00:00