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Filipino medical workers ready for Myanmar mission

First Posted 18:49:00 05/09/2008

MANILA, Philippines--The plane is ready and the medical team assembled for the humanitarian mission is all set but the Philippines has yet to receive Myanmar's (Burma) nod to the country's offer of assistance amid a climbing death toll in the military-ruled neighbor.

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said Friday that Myanmar has yet to accept the Philippines' offer to send a 15-member medical contingent to the typhoon-ravaged country, where deaths are feared to reach 100,000.

Philippine Air Force chief Lt. Gen. Pedrito Cadungog meanwhile said sendoff ceremonies for the team have been tentatively scheduled at the Villamor Air Base at 10 a.m. Saturday, but a departure time has yet to be set.

President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo on Wednesday ordered the Department of Health to assemble a medical team and fly to Myanmar to help attend to thousands of families displaced in the wake of Cyclone Nargis' devastation.

"We are awaiting acceptance from Myanmar of our offer of assistance. But we are continuing coordination both through the Burma Embassy here and our Embassy there," said foreign affairs spokesperson Claro Cristobal.

"We want to be fully coordinated," said the official when reached by phone Friday.

The Philippine Embassy in Rangoon has been spared from the devastation, said Cristobal, and the latest dispatch from the post showed that none among 250 Filipinos based there has been reported hurt.

Unlike other foreign aid workers, the Philippine contingent does not require a visa to enter Myanmar amid all its government's reclusive rules.

A separate contingent of the Philippine National Red Cross has also been prepared for a mission to Myanmar.

Cadungog said Friday, the Air Force, which was tapped to deploy its C-130 Hercules cargo plane for the mission, has started coordinating with the health department to finalize the passenger list for the humanitarian trip.

The Air Force has also started drawing up the flight plan and getting overflight clearances for its military plane to pass through foreign air space en route to Myanmar, all while awaiting the latter's landing clearance.

"We still do not know the departure time but we will start processing the requests for overflights today," Cadungog told the Philippine Daily Inquirer (parent company of INQUIRER.net) Friday shortly after receiving instructions from Defense Sec. Gilberto Teodoro Jr. to finalize the Burma flight.

PAF's Cebu-based 220th Airlift Wing, home of the C-130, estimated that the military plane could fly to Rangoon in five hours and 17 minutes. Cadungog has ordered the assembly to two air teams for the flight, each with a set of two pilots and three air crew each.

Cadungog has also instructed PAF operations chief Col. Roy Deveraturda and Col. William Ona, deputy chief of the Air Staff for Logistics, to supervise the Air Force crew in the mission.


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