The ASEAN Regional Forum held its first-ever field exercise for disaster relief May 4-8 in the Philippines. Fourteen participating countries offered assistance in response to a Philippine Government request for international humanitarian relief following a hypothetical super-typhoon. Multinational forces demonstrated and integrated their responses in the areas of land, air, and maritime search and rescue; medical assistance; and engineering reconstruction. Civil-military projects included the reconstruction of school buildings, the construction of a footbridge, the installation of a water delivery system, and the medical treatment of approximately 14,000 individuals.
"I think what we saw [in the ARF-VDR] are great examples of cooperation on humanitarian grounds from member countries. It’s important that we build on this and for those of us in the ASEAN Regional Forum our challenge now is to take the next major step forward and not sit back on our laurels."
—U.S. Ambassador for ASEAN Affairs Scot Marciel
The Republic of the Philippines and the United States co-sponsored the ARF-VDR (Voluntary Demonstration of Response). This civilian-led, military-supported exercise helped build regional capacity for transnational security cooperation in areas such as humanitarian assistance and disaster relief. The event enhanced ARF’s ability to move beyond a forum of dialogue to undertake more tangible forms of cooperation. Twenty-six countries from the Asia-Pacific region participated and fourteen countries contributed assets, including approximately 500 personnel and various disaster relief capabilities. The exercise strengthened security ties between ARF members, further developed interoperability for future operations, and provided a valuable training opportunity for participating civilian and military agencies.
The ARF-VDR was a major milestone for this forum. ARF, consisting of twenty-seven members, is the principal multilateral forum for security issues in the Asia-Pacific. It was created in 1994 under the auspices of Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) members. Since its inception, ARF has adopted a three-staged evolutionary approach: confidence-building measures, preventive diplomacy, and conflict resolution. ARF has recently undertaken more robust security cooperation in a variety of transnational security areas and toward action-based efforts such as disaster relief and maritime security.
The VDR enhanced the livelihoods of Sapang Bato village members in Central Luzon. In one instance, 700 people displaced from the 1991 eruption of Mt. Pinatubo found themselves cut off during much of the monsoon season from running water and most of the Sapang Bato village. Engineers from the Philippines, Australia, the United States, and Papua New Guinea worked together to dig a deep well and construct water tanks to provide potable water year-round to the villagers. They also constructed a footbridge to connect the isolated portion of the village with the remainder of Sapang Bato. During the May 4-8 exercise, multinational teams of doctors from the Philippines, Indonesia, Mongolia, Papua New Guinea, Australia, the United States, Sri Lanka, South Korea, and Brunei treated over 8,000 public health cases in the areas of dentistry, family practice, immunology, and minor surgeries. A second team of doctors from Indonesia and Japan along with the United States treated approximately 6,000 cases at Olongapo City.