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5 March 2014

WASHINGTON, D.C.—The Balikatan exercises and the barangay system were helpful in carrying out rescue and relief operations in typhoon-devastated areas in the Philippines, according to the United States military and American emergency responders who rushed there immediately after Typhoon Haiyan struck in November.

In the exhibit opening of Operation Seabird: the Photography of Team Rubicon in New York last week, first responders from the US Marine Corps and Team Rubicon shared their experiences on the ground as well as the roles Filipinos at the military, government, and grassroots levels played to help with rescue and relief efforts.

The success of the Haiyan rescue efforts was the result of the partnership between the Philippine and US armed forces, which was strengthened by the Balikatan military exercises, according to US Marines Col. Christopher Starling.

“When Typhoon Haiyan occurred we already have key linkages to the Philippine military. We have personal relationships at the senior level that makes it very simple to respond. We have the equipment; we know what the road networks are; we know the infrastructure. Balikatan prepared us to respond for something like a typhoon,” Col. Starling said.  

This was confirmed by Ambassador Jose L. Cuisia, Jr. who said:  “The Balikatan paid off, because the collaboration was seamless and they were telling us that without those exercises they could not have performed as well as they did.”

It was not only systems in place at the higher levels that made rescue and relief operations more effective, but also structures at the grassroots level, according to American emergency workers. 

The barangay, the smallest administrative division in the Philippines that dates back to pre-Hispanic times, played a key role in relief efforts, according to Lourdes Tiglao of Team Rubicon, a California-based emergency response group made up of military veterans. 

“They really had a good emergency system within the barangay. Their hierarchy of organizational structure, it never went down. In a disaster, that is one of the first things that break down,” said Tiglao.

Another Rubicon volunteer, Elana Duffy, said families in typhoon-affected areas used the barangay system to get the help they needed.

“The people knew who to go to and how to get the relief that they needed. Because of the way that barangays work, that sense of community I think that we could develop more here in the United States. So when a disaster hits, people know where to go and respond the best way for their families,” said Duffy.

In his remarks at the exhibit opening, Ambassador Cuisia expressed his gratitude to the team of first responders who were on the ground in the wake of Typhoon Haiyan.

“In tonight’s exhibit, we remember the tragedy of Haiyan but more importantly, celebrate the selfless work of the many outstretched hands that were offered to Filipinos during this time of great suffering and need,” said Ambassador Cuisia.

“I cannot overestimate the important role played by these first responders in helping save the lives of many Filipinos. On behalf of the people of the Philippines, I extend my gratitude to the US Marine Corps, Mammoth Medical Missions and Team Rubicon for the life-saving work that they did,” Ambassador Cuisia added.

Operation: Seabird—the Photography of Team Rubicon is a collection of 20 moving photographs taken by Kirk Jackson and other Rubicon members during their deployment to Leyte a few days after Typhoon Haiyan left more than 6,000 people dead and scores more missing and injured. The photographs are on display at the Kalayaan Hall of the Philippine Consulate General in New York. ###

5 March 2014

Team Rubicon volunteer Kate Oliver shares her experience during her deployment in Tacloban after Typhoon Haiyan. Looking on are Lourdes Tiglao of Team Rubicon and US Marines Col. Christopher Starling. (Photo Credit: Team Rubicon)