News Commentary

'Peace Corps committed to Phl'

- Pia Lee-Brago -

MANILA, Philippines - Despite budget problems in Washington and security threats in the past, the US Peace Corps is committed to sustaining its program in the country, its global director said yesterday.

Aaron Williams, who leaves today after a weeklong visit to mark the 50th year of the Peace Corps in the Philippines, described the program in the country as “one of our greatest in the world.”

“There’s ample room for our work to continue in the next 50 years,” Williams told The STAR in an interview in Manila yesterday. “I’m just really delighted to do that.”

The Peace Corps program in the Philippines is the second oldest in the world after the one in Ghana, and currently the second largest after the one in the Ukraine.

Threats posed by communist insurgents led to the suspension of the program in June 1990. It resumed in 1992.

The program was not suspended even after the murder of Peace Corps volunteer Julia Campbell in April 2007 in Batad, Ifugao. Campbell, a freelance journalist, had bumped into Juan Duntugan, who had just had an argument with a neighbor, making him drop something he was carrying. Irked, Duntugan struck Campbell with a rock and then tossed her body into a ravine. He was convicted a year later and is serving a life term without parole at the national penitentiary.

The Peace Corps started in the Philippines with the arrival of 123 volunteers in October 1961, the same year that the program was launched by then US President John F. Kennedy.

The first batch of volunteers taught Filipinos English, mathematics and the sciences. Since then, more than 8,000 volunteers have served in the Philippines.

Williams, a former volunteer himself, said he was pleased that wherever he went in this country, Filipinos recalled happy experiences with Peace Corps volunteers.

Even President Aquino, whom Williams met last week, recalled pleasant memories with Peace Corps volunteers who worked with his parents, Corazon and Benigno Aquino Jr.

The number of volunteers in the Philippines has been reduced this year due to budget constraints in Washington. This year’s global allocation for the program, Williams said, is $385 million, down from $400 million in 2010.

But he stressed that the program has always enjoyed “very strong support” from the US Congress, and he said he expected the program in the Philippines to “hold steady.”

The Peace Corps is currently in 77 countries, with a total of about 9,000 volunteers.

In the Philippines, about 200 Peace Corps volunteers focus on education, particularly in providing English training to teachers.

Volunteers also assist in programs involving coastal resource management, disaster management, and children, youth and family.

Williams was appointed to his post by President Barack Obama in 2009.

Last week, US Ambassador Harry Thomas Jr. lauded the success of the Peace Corps program in the Philippines.

“Through the Peace Corps, Filipino lives have been touched and the community transformed. The Philippines has a bright and creative future because of these children,” Thomas said.

Williams said the Philippines “is steadfast” in supporting the Peace Corps through 50 years. “Peace Corps is about hope,” he said.










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