Mountain Search and Rescue Training for Canatuan security


Preparations advance for civilianization of security in Subanon homeland

Orlando Taconing stands nervously at the edge of a steep rock face holding
on to a rope. Focusing on what his instructors taught him, he begins to slide
down in a controlled manner: by walking backwards, climbing down, and rappelling
down the cliff face. He had never done this before. Now he has to learn how.

A MOSART rappelling instructor shows the SCAAs how.

For four years, he’s been with the Special Citizens Armed Forces Geographical
Unit (CAFGU) Active Auxiliary or SCAA deployed in Canatuan, a remote village
in Southern Philippines. His unit, a security force under the Armed Forces of
the Philippines (AFP), is undergoing Mountain Search and Rescue Training or
MOSART, the first in a series of training programs that are a major component
in the preparations for the civilianization of security in Canatuan. The techniques
he and his colleagues will learn will be used in the services they will provide
for the community as employees of the private security agency or of the allied
services firm that will take over the SCAA’s peacekeeping functions in
the area when the plan takes effect in January 2008.

MOSART includes a basic first aid course, firefighting, navigation methods,
air marshalling, single-rope technique and evacuation. “The program is
aimed not only at giving the trainees the skills to be more effective and efficient
in their tasks of peacemaking but also at providing them knowledge on how to
react during calamities or incidents involving threats to life and property
within or beyond the community,” Program Director Jay Dureza explained.

Canatuan is the ancestral domain of the Subanon indigenous people of Siocon,
Zamboanga del Norte and host to the gold-copper operations of TVI Resource Development
Philippines, Inc.

Initially, the SCAAs, most of whom, like Taconing, are Subanons from the area,
were not entirely sold on the idea of civilianizing security – a proverbial
fear of the unknown – in this post-conflict zone. In fact, out of the
53 SCAAs slated to attend the first batch of the MOSART Program, only 25 members
and three civilian volunteers signed up. The rest opted to take a wait-and-see

At the Pisawak River in Siocon, SCAAs prepare for a cooking rice-on-the-water contest.

With the objective of teaching their students the value of teamwork, MOSART instructors
test the resolve of a SCAA team in protecting the fire team members painstakingly built on
water to cook rice. The team whose rice is cooked first wins.

This team had trouble keeping their fire burning.

The winners: the difficult challenge did not dampen their spirit – and lunch.

“After the announcement that we would be civilianized, many of us were
really sad and worried.” Taconing related in Visayan, the language in
most of Zamboanga del Norte. “Our apprehensions were high that we may
not qualify for inclusion in the private security agency since many of us did
not finish high school. But then, when the training began, we became happy because
we learned a lot of skills that we could use to help the community and even
our families in times of emergency.”

After two ambush incidents occurred near its project site on March 13, 2002
and December 26, 2002 that resulted in the death of 15 and injuries to TVIRD
personnel and their relatives, mostly Subanon, TVIRD and the government believed
that deployment of SCAA security was necessary for the company to protect itself,
its employees, and its community from criminal and terrorist elements who threaten
to harm not only the company’s physical assets but, more importantly,
its on-site personnel. The decision paid off.

“Since the deployment of SCAA forces in 2002, the people in Canatuan have
been enjoying the benefits of peace and security under a military umbrella,”
said Atty Eugene Mateo, TVIRD President. “However, both TVIRD and the
government believe that the economic development brought by the Canatuan mining
project, coupled with our joint efforts to extend government services to an
area previously underrepresented, now enable us to civilianize security and
assist in normalizing the previously conflict affected community.”

Early last August, TVIRD management and top government and military officials
announced that they have agreed to turn over to a private agency and the Philippine
National Police (PNP) the protection and security of Canatuan. No less than
Sec. Jesus Dureza, Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process; and Lt. Gen. Eugenio
Cedo, Commander of the AFP Western Mindanao Command, participated in the announcement
and endorsed the new security plan.

SCAAs“rescue” an “injured victim” in the

A SCAA member, now an expert in rappelling, carries a “wounded
victim” down a steep cliff…

…As more SCAAs below are quick to lend assistance.

The re-training of SCAA personnel assigned in the area is designed to prepare
those who will opt to participate in the new security setup, which will be handled
by the TVI Security Force, Inc. and complemented by the TVI Community Protection,
Inc., two distinct and separate private Filipino companies.

Arnold Billones, a half-Subanon, has also served as a SCAA for three years.
But unlike some of his comrades, Billones had the benefit of spending a couple
of years in college. He felt sad for his comrades who weren’t as fortunate
as him because one of the qualifications in becoming an armed security guard
is a high school diploma. After the training, Billones said his worries vanished
since they were able to learn new skills that could be used in jobs other than
being security personnel. These jobs include forest rangers, paramedics, firemen,
community watch, among others.

Canatuan’s protectors learned the “slide-for-life”
life-saving technique, too.

“The skills they acquired from the training will provide
them a lot of opportunities for employment even if they do not get qualified
in the security agency or if they choose to stay under the AFP when the crossover
to the new security arrangement is formalized next year,” TVIRD Canatuan
General Manager Magellan Bagayao said.

For his part, Yulo Perez, TVIRD vice president for Philippine Operations, said
he witnessed many positive changes in the attitude and behavior of the SCAAs
during and after MOSART. “There was excitement while they were undergoing
training. One can sense a noticeable yet quiet self-confidence in them now.
I guess it is because they know that they now have newfound skills that they
can make use of both within and outside Canatuan,” he averred.

Word quickly spread on how the first batch of SCAAs fortified their
bonds as they learned many new useful and exciting things at the MOSART. To
date, more than half of the 159-strong SCAA unit deployed at Canatuan Project
have graduated from the Program.

With a well-trained, highly motivated security force, prospects for further
improved peace and order and for continued development in this Subanon homeland
indeed look brighter for TVIRD and its gracious hosts. And Taconing, being one
of the hosts, will make sure he will be actively involved. (Rene Patangan)

Feliece Yeban, TVIRD vice president for Social Commitments (standing)
congratulates the MOSART graduates of Canatuan: “The SCAA conversion is
also linked to our human rights initiatives. No one, anywhere, likes a situation
where the use of a military auxiliary unit is required to secure an area. Ultimately,
we, the government, and civil society believe that social progress involves
the establishment of civilian processes, including police and justice institutions,
in all parts of the Philippines.”

MOSART Program Director Jay Dureza (seated center in dark blue
shirt) poses with the graduates: “The program is aimed not only at giving
the trainees the skills to be more effective and efficient in their tasks of
peacemaking but also at providing them knowledge on how to react during calamities
or incidents involving threats to life and property within or beyond the community.”