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School kids receive letters from soldiers in loneliest outpost.

Byline: Redempto D. Anda

PUERTO PRINCESA CITY -- What do soldiers in the country's loneliest outpost do to kill time? They write letters to schoolchildren.

The BRP Sierra Madre, a rusting former naval supply ship marooned on the disputed Ayungin Shoal (Second Thomas Shoal), shelters a handful of Marines as the country's first line of defense against China's bold thrust to take control of the entire South China Sea.

Virtually isolated by a naval blockade imposed by two to five Chinese warships 24/7, the Philippine Navy paradrops supplies to the sun-baked ship to avoid a naval confrontation.

Successful paradrop

Early this month, the Naval Forces West executed a successful paradrop (previous ones landed either on the water or broke into pieces when they hit the deck of the BRP Sierra Madre). Among the cargo were not just fried chicken from a famous fast-food chain but also a bunch of letters from various elementary and high school children in mainland Palawan province.

The letters were collected by support groups led by the University of the Philippines Cadets Alumni Association from schoolchildren in various public and private schools in Palawan, including Pilot Elementary School, Dumanguena Elementary School, Kids World Learning Center's Grade 2 class, Wescom Elementary School, Palawan State University, Palawan National School and Palawan Adventist Academy.

"Salamat sa inyong kabayanihan sa pagbabantay ng ating teritoryo ... Mahal namin kayo (We are grateful for your heroism in guarding Philippine territory ... We love you)," wrote Art Benedict Cabading on a sheet of paper with doodles of ships and soldiers.

"Lubos kaming naaantig sa inyong liham ... Hindi lang pala pamilya namin ang nananalangin para sa amin kundi ang buong sambayanang Pilipino (We are extremely touched by your letters, knowing it's not just our families praying for our safety but the entire Filipino people)," wrote Sgt. Wilmer Murillo of the Marine Battalion Landing Team 12.

Classified information

The Western Command (Wescom) of the Armed Forces of the Philippines declined to narrate how they were able to receive the letters from the soldiers on Ayungin with the Chinese naval blockade in place. Recent reports indicate that at least five Chinese naval vessels have been keeping an eye on the disputed reef.

"That is classified information," Wescom spokesperson Lt. Cheryl Tindog told the Inquirer.

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Publication:Philippines Daily Inquirer (Makati City, Philippines)
Geographic Code:9PHIL
Date:May 18, 2014
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