Hundreds of troops from South Korea arrived in Leyte shortly before the New Year, on December 28. Thanks to their heavy equipment, it became easier for local authorities to prepare the mass graves in Tacloban City for victims of Super Typhoon Yolanda.
South Korea is here to focus on the reconstruction of damaged roads and buildings, according to Major General John Bonafos, who heads the Cebu-based Central Command of the Armed Forces of the Philippines that is in charge of the foreign military assistance in Yolanda areas.
There are now 540 of the South Koreans in Leyte following the arrival of two navy vessels. Bonafos said they're a big help because the local engineers lack in equipment.
"They're looking at prioritizing the road access. They will open the roads starting from Tanuan, where we had the mass gravesite," Bonafos said. From Tanuan, they will move to Tolosa and then Palo.
The South Korean troops originally intended to stay for 6 months but later decided to stay for a whole year, according to Bonafos.
Aside from the United Nations (UN) contingent, they are the only remaining foreign military in the Philippines although other countries like India and Thailand have committed to also send theirs. (READ: Soldiers of the world deployed for Haiyan victims)
South Korea is paying its debt of gratitude. "When they arrived at the Mactan Air Base, they repeatedly told us that they're paying back the sacrifices the Filipino soldiers back when there was conflict in their country," said Bonafos.
This was back in the 1950s, when the war between South Korea and North Korea was intense. Former President Fidel Ramos was a young soldier when he joined the continget of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) that fought under the United Nations flag.