MANILA -- Malacañang on Thursday ordered the activation of a task force within the Philippine Peacekeeping Contingent in Haiti that will conduct search and rescue for Filipinos affected by the earthquake in that Caribbean nation.

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) reported an estimated 462 Filipinos in Haiti, of which 290 are civilians and 172 are military and police peacekeepers. There are also Filipino nuns and priests in that country.

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The task force has started reaching out and making an accounting of members of the Filipino community in Haiti.

DFA Undersecretary for Migrant Workers Esteban Conejos reported that the task force, consisting of soldiers and peacekeepers, was already on the ground assisting Filipinos in Haiti.

The task force, however, said limited visibility, blocked road conditions, poor communications, and peacekeepers’ search and rescue at the immediate areas hamper efforts.

Conejos noted that the Filipinos in Haiti are helping each other with Philippine Ambassador to Cuba MacArthur F. Corsino coordinating with the Honorary Consulate in Port-au-Prince for necessary assistance.

The Philippine Embassy in Havana reported that the 290 civilian Filipinos in Haiti are in the garments, telecommunication and power generation sectors. They mostly occupy middle and upper management positions.

Rescued and accounted for

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) reported Thursday that one of the four Filipino peacekeepers who were trapped inside collapsed buildings in Haiti was rescued before noon Thursday.

In a press briefing, AFP public affairs office chief Romeo Brawner said Corporal David Catacutan was retrieved with only bruises at the basement gym of the Montana Hotel at Port Au Prince around 11:30 a.m.

“We have a good news. As of 11:30 a.m., Philippine time, Corporal David Catacutan was rescued by members of the Philippine Contingent at Montana hotel and as per the initial medical examination, Catacutan sustained bruises and right now he is recuperating or resting in the headquarters or the barracks of the Philippine contingent,” said Brawner.

Catacutan was escorting a VIP from the United Nations when the hotel collapsed. The rescue of Catacutan brings to only three the remaining Filipino peacekeepers trapped in collapsed buildings.

They are DP3 Perlie Panangui, a clerk at the office of the Force Commander; Sergeant Janice Arocena, a clerk at the Chief of Staff, Central Registry and Sergeant Eustacio Bermudez, a clerk at the Conduct and Discipline Unit/Force Provo Martial. The three were trapped at the second floor of the Christopher Hotel at Port-Au-Prince.

The 157-military contingent were staying in four areas – Italian House (90), Montana hotel (29), Logistics base (13) and Christopher Hotel (25).

"Majority of (the) troops are safe," said Brawner. "He (Dagoy) said that majority of the Filipino contingents living in the main building of the Philippine company headquarters were already evacuated."

"Instead of just being victims themselves, they are helping in the recovery, search and rescue effort in Haiti and right now, we are still trying to get more information. We are contacting our contingent in Haiti and we are also trying to contact the UN (United Nations) headquarters in New York," Brawner added.

The Philippine National Police (PNP) on the other hand reported that the entire 15-police peacekeeping contingent has been accounted for.

Senior Superintendent Adolfo Fuentes reported Thursday that his team are now helping in the search and rescue operations in Haiti.

Filipino Archbishop in Haiti

The Apostolic Nunciature in Manila said that Filipino Archbishop Bernardito Cleopas Auza, the Apostolic Nuncio to Port-Au-Prince, Haiti is “alive and well.”

“The Vatican has received information Archbishop Auza is alive and well and the people working with him although there was great destruction in the country and there were many people who died,” said Father John Brillantes, Assistant Secretary to the Papal Nuncio, in an article posted on the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) website.

The Apostolic Nunciature office in Manila is the office Papal Nuncio to the Philippines Archbishop Joseph Edward Adams.

Meanwhile, it was Archbishop Auza who reported that Archbishop Serge Miot of the Haitan capital of Port-au-Prince was among the casualties of the disaster.

In another article on the CBCP website, the Archbishop said that Miot’s body was found in the rubble of the latter’s office together with hundreds of seminarians and priests.

“Port-au-Prince is totally devastated. The cathedral, the Archbishop’s office, all of the big churches, all of the seminaries have been reduced to rubble. The same luck for the Ministry buildings, the Presidential Palace, the schools,” said Vatican’s Fides news agency, quoting Archbishop Auza.

Archbishop Auza is a native of Bohol. He is Pope Benedict XVI’s envoy to Haiti since May 2008.

The number of Catholics in Haiti is less than 50 percent of the population.

About 3,000 police and international peacekeepers cleared debris, directed traffic and maintained security in the capital. But law enforcement was stretched thin even before the quake and would be ill-equipped to deal with major unrest. The UN's 9,000-member peacekeeping force sent patrols across the capital's streets while securing the airport, port and main buildings.

Looting began immediately after the quake, with people seen carrying food from collapsed buildings. Inmates were reported to have escaped from the damaged main prison in Port au Prince, said Elisabeth Byrs, a UN humanitarian spokeswoman in Geneva.

The US Geological Survey (USGS) said the 7.0 magnitude quake struck at 4:53 p.m. Tuesday (Haiti time), with the center located 15 kilometers west of Port-au-Prince at a depth of just eight kilometers.

USGS geophysicist Kristin Marano called it the strongest earthquake since 177

An intensity 7 earthquake hit Haiti on Tuesday night (Wednesday morning in Manila), which resulted to the collapse of buildings in the troubled country. (VR/FP/Sunnex)