US hospital ship’s crew won’t be restricted to Subic port
SUBIC BAY FREEPORT—-Crew members of the visiting American hospital ship USNS Mercy would be allowed to leave this free port for rest and recreation but their movements would be guided by rules set by the United States Pacific Command (US Pacom) for its visiting personnel, an official of the ship said.
“Our activities are not restricted in the sense that we can’t leave the ship… The guidelines [on the visit] that the local government here issues are not restricted. We can enjoy the culture here and our sailors can go to the beach and shop,” said Capt. Christopher Engdahl, USNS Pacific Partnership 2015 Mission Commander.
Last year, the US Pacom canceled the liberty (rest and recreation) activities of US servicemen in the Philippines following the involvement of US Marine Pfc. Joseph Scott Pemberton in the murder of transgender woman Jeffrey “Jennifer” Laude in nearby Olongapo City.
Engdahl said since the USNS Mercy personnel are not in a combat mission, the restrictions on them are not similar to those of US servicemen.
USNS Mercy carries doctors, nurses and other medical personnel who undertake a cleft-lip and palate surgical mission.
Engdahl said the Philippine Army and the police are assisting USNS Mercy personnel in their activities while in Subic. He said the USNS Mercy personnel will also work and train with the local community in civic service events, women’s peace and security forums, and disaster preparedness and relief efforts.
Shop in Manila
Engdahl, however, said most of the USNS Mercy sailors had opted to shop in Metro Manila.
“Our sailors will go as far as Manila for excursions. I’m sorry that their money is leaving Subic because they go to Manila for shopping,” he said.
Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority Chair Roberto Garcia earlier said the US Pacom had eased up on its servicemen’s liberty activities.
“The directive came from the new US Pacom commander, Adm. Harry Harris. The US servicemen are now allowed to leave their ships for rest and recreation but only within the free port,” Garcia said.
He said American soldiers would be allowed to dine in restaurants and shop inside the free port.
“They (US servicemen) still [practice] buddy system when on shore leave and they are given a curfew of midnight,” he said.
Before it docked here on Tuesday, the USNS Mercy spent 15 days in Capiz province where its crew held a four-day disaster preparedness symposium, search-and-rescue exercises, helicopter operations, and vehicle extrication training, a statement from the US Embassy in Manila said.–Allan Macatuno, Inquirer Central Luzon
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