Story by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Chris Fahey, Joint Civil Military Operations Task Force Public Affairs.
ZAMBALES, Philippines – After two weeks of non-stop construction in the Philippine heat, the combined team of Philippine and U.S. Navy Seabees officially deemed the new San Pascual footbridge open to the community.
At the official ribbon cutting ceremony, April 14, Guest Speaker U.S. Exercise Deputy Director Balikatan 2013 Marine Corps Brig. Gen. Richard Simcock said the new footbridge is symbolic of the Balikatan mission.
“The people of the U.S. and the Philippines are a lot alike. We all hope for a better future and happiness in our communities,” said Simcock. “Our two countries’ soldiers have worked shoulder-to-shoulder to help give something back to the community for letting us train in your country. This footbridge is a way to show we care.”
The new 66-meter footbridge spans a small valley that is impassable during the rainy season. During these months, farmers would either have to risk floating their crops across the flooded valley on a makeshift bamboo raft, pieced together with materials found nearby, or walk several miles out of their way to get to the village’s market center.
“When we tried to cross the old river, we would often lose things,” said Jessica Vilanueva through an interpreter. “During the rainy season, the river would flood and rise really high. We would have to walk several kilometers down the river to find a safe place to cross.”
The new footbridge stands roughly 4 meters above the valley. Strung up with a heavy steel suspension wire and encaged in chain-link fence, ensuring that villagers could cross the bridge safely. On either side, the bridge’s spans are anchored in cement atop three interconnected pillars.
The addition of the new bridge combined with a surge of barangay-wide support and sense of accomplishment turned the construction into a rare community-driven lesson on friendship.
“For some years now, more than we can count, the province of Zambales has been very supportive of the Philippine-American relationship,” said Philippine Navy Rear Adm. Jose Miguel Rodriguez. “The new footbridge will allow safe passage for children to school, farmers to market and for families to see each other. It will stand as and enduring symbol of the friendship shared between the U.S. and Philippines. A friendship the people of San Pascual support and if not for them, this amazing footbridge could have never been built.”
The U.S. Seabees working with the Philippine Seabees are from Naval Mobile Construction Battalion (NMCB) 5, Naval Base Venture County Port Hueneme, Calif. The engineers are deployed to Zambales in support of Balikatan 2013.
Balikatan is an annual Philippine-U.S. bilateral exercise. Humanitarian assistance and training activities enable the Philippine and American service members to build lasting relationships, train together and provide assistance in communities where the need is the greatest.