By Francis Wakefield
Filipino, American, Japanese, and Australian soldiers conducted a dedication ceremony for a newly-constructed school building as part of Exercise Balikatan’s Engineering Civic Assistance Projects for Cabu Elementary School (CES) in Cabanatuan, City, Nueva Ecija Province, on Wednesday (May 16, 2018).
The ceremony was attended by Maj. Gen. Herminigildo Francisco Aquino, Philippine Forces Assistant Exercise Director, and Lt. Gen. Lawrence Nicholson, U.S. Forces Exercise Director. Also present was CES Principal, Ms. Cecilia Santarina.
“The AFP and U.S. forces began Exercise Balikatan through community engagement activities in Northern Luzon in mid-April. The Engineering projects were conducted to improve the local infrastructure of schools and other institutions in selected areas in Cabanatuan City, as well as in Cagayan, Isabela, and Tarlac,” Aquino said.
At CES alone, 26 soldiers from the 546th Engineer Construction Battalion, Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and 30 from the 130th Engineer Brigade, U.S. Armed Forces and additional teams from Japan and Australia built a one story, two-classroom building. They also installed a water catchment system, and made minor on-site beautification projects. They started the construction on April 2, 2018.
Principal Santarina expressed her gratitude to the AFP and U.S. Armed Forces for their benevolence in choosing CES as one of the recipients of the new school building.
Nicholson, for his part, also praised the team for their contributions.
“The greatest gift you can give any organization, any society is the gift of education. The five schools built over the last couple of weeks is a testament to our commitment to the Balikatan Team and to the future of this great country, this great alliance,” he said.
Prior to the official start of Balikatan, Filipino, U.S., Japanese, and Australian service members worked together on construction projects and conducted medical engagements with local residents throughout Northern Luzon. In total, they constructed five school buildings, and installed drainage systems, sidewalks, and water catchment systems.
Balikatan is an annual military exercise between the AFP and U.S. Armed Forces that is focused on mutual defense, counterterrorism, humanitarian assistance, and disaster relief.