TAWI-TAWI ISLAND, Philippines -- As the 10 men approached, the crowd parted in front of them. When they were about 20 feet away, I noticed that they were all wearing the uniform of the Moro National Liberation Front -- not long ago considered a vicious terrorist organization. The U.S. Navy SEAL standing beside me edged closer, his short-barrel carbine at the ready.
"We want to tell you why we are here," said the apparent leader of the small band of men. He spoke in Tausig, one of several dialects spoken on this tiny island, and he waited patiently for our interpreter to translate into English. His comrades looked about, seemingly bemused at the hubbub they had created.
Tawi-Tawi is one of the most remote of the 7,100 islands in the Philippine archipelago. Just 25 nautical miles from Malaysia, and less than 5 degrees north of the equator, its name means "Far-Far" in Malay. To get here our FOX News "War Stories" team flew to a Philippine Navy base aboard a U.S. Navy H-60 helicopter, and then boarded two patrol boats with Philippine SEALs and their U.S. counterparts. After a swift transit through crystal blue water, we arrived at the coastal village of Balingbing, where many of the 12,000 mostly Muslim inhabitants live in homes built on wooden stilts over the sea.
The ostensible purpose of our visit was to document the opening of a new boat dock, set to coincide with the 109th anniversary of Philippine independence. On June 12, 1898, Emilio Aguinaldo had marched triumphantly into Manila and declared victory over Spain -- but that wasn't the only reason several thousand people were clamoring over the shore of this seaside town. What had brought them -- and the uniformed men from the MNLF -- to the waterfront was a ribbon-cutting ceremony for a new boat landing.
Designed and built for less than $75,000 by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) with a 25 percent contribution from the provincial government, the opening of the new pre-cast concrete commercial pier was wildly applauded by the island's inhabitants. Nearly all of them reap their livelihoods from the sea -- as fishermen, shrimpers or seaweed farmers. Noel Ruiz, the engineer who supervised the construction for USAID, noted, "Most Americans would see this as a very modest project, but for the people of Tawi-Tawi this boat landing is proof that the Philippine and American governments really do care about what's happening here."
And what's been happening here isn't just good news for the predominantly Muslim population on a tiny island in the Sulu Sea, it's also good news for America's war against Islamic terror.
Oliver North is a nationally syndicated columnist, the host of War Stories on the Fox News Channel, the author of the new novel Heroes Proved and the co-founder of Freedom Alliance, an organization that provides college scholarships to the children of U.S. military personnel killed or permanently disabled in the line of duty. Join Oliver North in Israel by going to www.olivernorthisrael.com.
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