By Priam Nepomuceno

(Photo courtesy of OCD)

MANILA – The 82-member Philippine Inter-Agency Humanitarian Contingent (PIAHC) to Türkiye will be back in the country by March 1.

“The team will (be) back in the Philippines not later than March 1, 2023,” Office of Civil Defense (OCD) spokesperson Assistant Secretary Bernardo Rafaelito Alejandro IV said in an update Tuesday.

He added that both teams of the PIAHC, the Urban Search and Rescue (USAR) and Philippine Emergency Medical Assistance Team (PEMAT), will be ceasing their operations by Feb. 24 (local time).

“Due to the decrease in chance of finding signs of life and rescuing survivors, the USAR team of the PIAHC was earlier placed on stand-by awaiting request for assistance on retrieval operations from the Turkish Local Emergency Management Authorities,” Alejandro said.

The Filipino USAR team has so far assessed 36 buildings and recovered four cadavers from the rubble.

However, the OCD spokesperson said the PEMAT continues to provide medical care to Turkish patients.

As of Monday, the PEMAT has so far catered to 668 individuals in the country’s southeastern city of Adiyaman.

Alejandro earlier said Ankara will no longer accept a second contingent from Manila to help in operations in the aftermath of the magnitude 7.8 earthquake that rocked the country last Feb. 6.

The Turkish government, however, said the Philippines can send or donate non-food items, he added.

Good job

Meanwhile, the OCD also extended its gratitude and congratulations to the PIAHC for a job well done in representing the Philippines by delivering urgently needed assistance to the earthquake-battered nation.

“I would like to thank the men and women of the Department of Health, Philippine Army, Philippine Air Force, Metro Manila Development Authority, and Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority for answering the call for help of Turkiye by deploying personnel despite the risks and harsh weather conditions that they may encounter, and providing the team the assistance needed to accomplish their mission,” OCD administrator Undersecretary Ariel Nepomuceno said.

He also added that PIAHC’s accomplishments also fulfilled President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr.’s statement earlier that “the Philippines is ready to help in whatever way it can in responding to this disaster.”

“The team is the face of hope of our brothers and sisters in Türkiye. Every rubble cleared and every patient treated provide(s) a glimpse of hope to the victims of this tragic event,” Nepomuceno added.

He also said the OCD wishes PIAHC well as they finish their duty.

Nepomuceno added that the contingent’s families, friends, colleagues, and the Filipino people are very proud of the sacrifices they have made in order to fulfill their mission of bringing help and hope to Türkiye.

“We can’t wait for their homecoming as we welcome our contingent back and recognize the heroic deeds they have accomplished. They’ve raised the Philippine flag overseas and shown to the international community that the Philippines can go side by side with other countries, in terms of providing humanitarian assistance at an internationally recognized standard,” the OCD chief said.

Meanwhile, the OCD said instructions for the PIAHC to demobilize on Feb. 24 remain, following another magnitude 6.3 earthquake that rocked the Turkish-Syrian border on Monday.

“Instruction to demobilize on the (February) 24th remains, our team is in good and safe condition as well as our facilities such as the field hospital and base camp, communication is uninterrupted and we are still in contact with the team,” OCD joint information center head Diego Agustin Mariano said when asked about PIAHC’s status. (PNA)