PUERTO PRINCESA, PALAWAN, Philippines -- Members of the community from the Barangay Inagawan Sub District, as well as Service members of the Armed Forces of the Philippines and United States armed forces attended a groundbreaking ceremony March 19.
The groundbreaking ceremony is an engineering civil assistance project (ENCAP), part of the humanitarian and civic assistance (HCA) events of Balikatan 2012 (BK12). 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 respond quickly and work together.
This ceremony was for two schools, the Tagbarungis Elementary School and the Inagawan National High School, located south of Puerto Princesa. Local Philippine leaders chose the school sites, based on needs of the community.
"(The community) is one of the poorer areas," said Cynthia C. Castro, barangay captain, Inagawan Sub District, Puerto Princesa City. "We are blessed to have this project, because this community is one with 80 percent poverty [rate]."
The new high school building will allow the students to attend school for another year. Currently, students are only able to attend three years and this addition will allow the students to stay for another year, said Norma Dela Cruz, the secondary school principal for the high school.
"It was the recommendation of our division superintendant, of the division of Puerto Princesa City, that our school -- the Tagbarungis annex -- is in need of [a] school building," she said.
The elementary schools attendance has doubled in the last five years and currently has 300 students enrolled, said Romeo Villeza, president of the Parent Teacher Association for Tagbarungis.
"This [ENCAP] will be a great, great help to us," he said, "especially in this school."
Also in attendance with the more than 300 children and school officials, were the commander of Combined Joint Civil Military Operations Task Force, Philippine 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 civil assistance projects (MEDCAP).
During the ceremony, Sarmiento offered a symbolic theme to Balikatan, based on the acronym WORK (we organize and remember the importance of knowledge). After his remarks, he challenged a student to recite the words for an incentive of 100 pisos. The challenge was eagerly met by one of the students, who successfully recited the meaning of WORK.
"Thank you for allowing us to be here and allowing us to express our WORK on behalf of Balikatan," said Sarmiento to the assembled audience.
During the groundbreaking, chaplains from both the AFP and the U.S. forces offered a blessing on the construction site. Afterwards, leaders from the community and CJCMOTF placed coins and stones into the trench dug for the foundation of the school building.
The coins represent a wish for luck, and the stones represent the foundation stones for the building, said Dela Cruz.
"Education of our children is the assurance of the longevity of our community," said Young.
Projected completion for all ENCAP sites are scheduled from April 23 to 27.