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US pledges $2.5M for classrooms in Mindanao

June 22, 2008 01:04:00
Nash Maulana Edwin Fernandez
Philippine Daily Inquirer

COTABATO CITY, Philippines--The United States has pledged a $2.5-million bilateral aid package to build more classrooms and rehabilitate old school buildings in Mindanao despite the shooting by unidentified men of a US helicopter on a mercy mission near the Polloc port in Parang town in Shariff Kabunsuan on Sunday.

The aid agreement was signed by US Ambassador Kristie Kenney and Petron chair Nicasio Alcantara, said officials of the Education Quality Access to Learning and Livelihood Skills (EQuALLs), a project funded by the US Agency for International Development (USAID).

The effort was a joint commitment of the USAID and the Petron Development Foundation.

The announcement of fresh funds came after a US MH-60 transport helicopter, which was ferrying patients to and from the USNS Mercy hospital ship in Polloc was fired upon. No one was hit and the helicopter was not damaged, Lt. Col. Julieto Ando, speaking for the Army's 6th Infantry Division, said.

In a statement, Janice Sevilla, EQuALLs communications officer, said that under the package, 120 classrooms would be built and 480 more would be rehabilitated over four years. EQuALLs will provide building materials for each of the 729 classrooms to be renovated in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, the Zamboanga Peninsula and Central Mindanao.

During the current school year, 20 classrooms in the regions will be built and 54 will be renovated, Sevilla said.

Funds will also be allocated for desks, teachers' tables and chairs, blackboards, cabinets, fans, clocks, lavatories, and water and power facilities.

The USAID will provide new books to 93 schools in the three regions in support of the Department of Education's "Brigada Eskwela" program, Sevilla said.

For every grade level of the recipient schools, it will donate reading materials to enable class advisers to set up a reading corner in each of the classroom beneficiaries, she said.

Ando said that despite the "harassment" aimed at US troops helping in the mercy mission, the health assistance would continue. "We're still determining who were responsible for the harassment," he said.

The USNS Mercy's humanitarian mission in Mindanao is part of the Pacific Partnership 08, a civic assistance mission between nations and nongovernmental organizations. It provides medical, dental, construction and other services.

More than 100 patients were expected to be operated on at the ship while Navy personnel conduct outreach programs in various areas of Maguindanao, Shariff Kabunsuan and Lanao del Sur.

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