QUEZON CITY—Grateful Filipinos around the world are sending Christmas gifts for soldiers guarding the Philippine territories that can be found in the West Philippine Sea.
Dubbed as the ‘Saludo Package’, boxes containing various goods were donated mostly by overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) around the world. The contents of the boxes include canned goods, news magazines, movie DVDs, toiletries and even cigarettes.
Lt Col Harold Cabunoc, the Commander of the 7th Civil Relations Group of the Philippine Army, was among those who spearheaded the collection of gifts for the soldiers.
He said that he started the ‘Saludo Package’ project in 2012 through his Facebook friends.
“My FB friends had always expressed their intent to provide support for the soldiers who are in the frontlines. Having experienced the hard life in the distant posts, I was motivated to gather all these donations and send them to the soldiers in the field,” said Cabunoc.
The recent donations were forwarded to the Marine unit which has operational control over the military units deployed in the 9 reefs and islets claimed by the Philippines.
The 7th CRG intends to send at least 1 box of assorted goods to every territory that is guarded by the soldiers.
Sometime in August 2013, Cabunoc used his FB account to float the idea of sending Christmas gifts for the military personnel who are stationed to protect the Philippine territories in the Kalayaan Island Group (KIG).
He said that Filipinos from all corners of the globe promptly replied to send their pledges.
“I received donations from OFWs who are working in the US, Germany, Australia, Japan and the Middle East. This is on top of the donations sent by Manila-based Pinoys who also wanted to show their appreciation for the service of our soldiers,” said Cabunoc.
Initially, three ‘balikbayan’ boxes were sent for soldiers guarding Ayungin shoal and Rizal reef. Another box intended for Lawak reef is now gradually filled with assorted goods.
Kent Flores a Japan-based OFW from Iloilo is one of the donors. He said that he wanted to make the soldiers happy during Christmas.
“Gusto ko lang na magpasalamat sa ating mga sundalo na taos-pusong nagsisilbi sa ating bayan. Kahit sa ganitong pamamaraan ay maipakita ko sa kanila na kinikilala namin ang kanilang kabayanihan,” said Flores upon his arrival at NAIA barely a week ago.
Priscilla Sheppard of Australia also sent donations through a courier service but they would be arriving after Christmas.
“Please let the soldiers know that a friend from Down Under appreciates their service,” said Sheppard in her FB message.
Meanwhile, Georgio Dano of New York, sent cash donation intended to buy provisions. He said that he will convince more people to support the project.
“I will forward the story to some officer friends of mine in the United States Navy. I've always been helping the armed forces here and abroad,” said Dano, a native of Cebu City, in his FB message.
Honoring the soldiers
Cabunoc said that aside from the ‘Saludo Package’, he has also started the ‘Equip a Soldier’ program this year.
Five soldiers from the Army Scout Ranger, Philippine Marine Corps and the Philippine Air Force had received US made tactical boots that can last longer during foot patrols in the rugged terrain of the country.
Joey Velasquez of California is one of the avid supporters who sent combat boots for the soldiers who are serving in the battlefield. He said that he wants to honor the soldiers who are making self-sacrifices for the country.
“We need an attitude of gratitude for our very own soldiers who ensure that we sleep soundly at night. I am proud to be part of this project,” said Velasquez.
Staff Sergeant Rehum Magno, 37, one of the awardees during the AFP's 78th anniversary was among the recipients of a brand new rugged all terrain (RAT) boots. He said that he was surprised that someone took notice about the soldiers' sacrifices.
"I would like to thank the donor who gave me a reliable pair of boots. I am now more motivated to serve our people in the field," said Magno who received the Distinguished Conduct Star for his heroic actions during the Zamboanga siege.
(Photos by Cpl Marlon San Esteban)
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