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Mario J. Mallari

Escaped Filipino peacekeepers in Golan Heights defied an order to surrender their firearms from the commanding officer of the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF), commander Indian Maj. Gen. Iqbal Singh Singha.

Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Chief of Staff Gen. Gregorio Pio Catapang Jr. said that Singh should be probed for ordering the Filipino peacekeepers to surrender their firearms and to raise the white flag. It is usual for soldiers to obey the orders of their commanding officer, but it appears that the Filipino peacekeepers went against their commanding officer’s order.

And the AFP Chief of Staff, now wants the UNDOF commanding officer probed for ordering the Filipino peacekeepers to surrender their firearms.
“In terms of reference, it is not provided there that we can be ordered to surrender our firearms because what the UNDOF commander wants is to save Fiji at the expense of the Philippines,” said Catapang.
“The order of UNDOF was to surrender the firearms and raise the white flag,” he added.
The AFP chief said that there was no assurance that the Filipino peacekeepers, stationed at Positions 68 and 69 in the Golan Heights, would not be harmed or taken as hostages if they had surrendered their firearms.
“It was not our fault that they (Fijians) were taken hostages. What I was telling the UNDOF commander was to save first the Philippines and then we will help the Fijians later…the Fijians surrendered their firearms but they were still held hostaged. There is no assurance,” said Catapang.
The AFP chief said that he was told that Al Nusra, the rebel group responsible in the attack against the peacekeepers, considered the firearms being demanded as symbolic.
“I told them ‘to us it’s not only symbolic, it is our honor that is at stake’,” said Catapang.
He stressed that the Philippine government only acted to ensure the safety and security of the 75 Filipino troops.
It will be recalled that Syrian rebels initially disarmed 44 Fijian peacekeepers and took them as hostages before attacking Philippine contingent positions in the Golan Heights on Saturday.
Catapang admitted that the move taken by the Philippine government may affect its relations with the United Nations.
“But they have to understand that the safety of our soldiers is of primordial importance. It prevails over and above the Fijian situation,” said Catapang.
On Saturday, 35 Filipino peacekeepers from Position 69 were extricated from their area, which was surrounded by Syrian rebels since Thursday, by fellow Filipinos from Position 80 escorted by Irish armored assets. They were subjected to sporadic gun fires by the Syrian rebels.
On the other hand, 40 Filipino peacekeepers from Position 68 repulsed a seven-hour attack by the Syrian rebels who rammed their modified pickup trucks against the Filipino encampment.
The 40 peacekeepers from Position 68 managed to escape, walking to safety area in the cover of darkness, bringing along all their firearms and equipment.
“The escape plan was a decision of the ground troops that we supported,” said Catapang.
Catapang said there is no need for Singh to apologize.
“What is needed is to investigate him,” said Catapang.
Catapang, along with several other AFP generals and Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin and Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario, closely monitored the situation of the Filipino peacekeepers in the Golan Heights since Saturday until they escaped Sunday morning.
Catapang said that all Filipino peacekeepers in the Golan Heights are now in a safe area.
For his part, Col. Roberto Ancan, commander of the AFP-Peacekeeping Operations Center, said that the situation called for the national interest to prevail.
“As a troop contributing country, our national interest will prevail over the situation, we can do that,” said Ancan.
Ancan, however, maintained that the Philippine contingent to Golan Heights remains committed to complete its tour of duty this October.

UN Pinoy peacekeepers escape Golan standoff

Monday, 01 September 2014 00:00 Published in Headlines

Dozens of Filipino UN peace-keepers performed the “greatest escape” from besieging Syrian rebels, slipping away under the cover of night after rebels rammed their Golan Heights outpost with armed trucks, the military yesterday said.
All 75 soldiers serving with a United Nations peacekeeping force in the Middle East flashpoint zone reached safety after the rebels, some linked to al-Qaeda, surrounded them and demanded their weapons last Thursday, Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Chief of Staff Gen.
Gregorio Catapang said.
He called it “the greatest escape” and praised the soldiers.
The military chief said the 40 Filipino peacekeepers assigned to Position 68 initially repulsed the attacking Syrian rebels, engaging them in a seven-hour firefight last Saturday.
The Syrian rebels started attacking Position 68 around 6 a.m. Saturday Syrian time (11 a.m. Manila time), ramming their pickup trucks to the encampment and shooting at the peacekeepers.
“Our troops defended their position. The Syrian rebels attacked onboard pick-up trucks. Our peacekeepers returned fire in self-defense. Our troops fought back bravely and successfully held their positions after a seven-hour firefight,” said Catapang.
“Although they were surrounded and outnumbered, they held their ground for seven hours,” he added.
Reports said there were about 100 Syrian rebels surrounding Position 68. Some Syrian rebels also engaged Filipino peacekeepers stationed at Position 69. The two encampments of Filipino peacekeepers are about four kilometers apart.
The attack prompted the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) leadership to order the repositioning of the Filipino peacekeepers.
Col. Roberto Ancan, AFP Peacekeeping Operations Center chief, said first to be extricated were those in Position 69.
He added Filipino peacekeepers from Position 80, along with Irish peacepeekers who provided armored personnel carriers, proceeded to Position 69 for the rescue.
“They (Irish contingent) have the armed assets so together with them, we proceeded to 69 and extricate our troops. Before that, there were some sporadic…we were fired upon at position 69,” said Ancan.
According to him,  the 35 Filipino peacekeepers at Position 69 were successfully extricated and repositioned to Camp Ziouani.
On the other hand, the Filipino peacekeepers at Position 68 used the cover of the night to evade about 100 Syrian rebels who surrounded their camp and after the seven-hour fire fight.
“It was under the cover of darkness,” Ancan said of the escape of Filipino peacekeepers from Position 68 which happened about midnight Saturday Syrian time.
According to Ancan, the Filipinos were not escorted during their escape. They walked toward the safe area, bringing along all their equipment and weapons.
He said the Syrian rebels massed up, with their three pickup trucks mounted with anti-aircraft, around Position 68.
Syrian and Israeli forces provided fire support to ease the pressure from the Filipino peacekeepers.
Catapang said all of the 75 Filipino peacekeepers are all accounted for and repositioned to a safer place within Golan Heights.
There was no casualty from the Filipino peacekeepers during the repositioning.
“Currently, Filipino peacekeepers from both Position 68 and 69 have successfully repositioned to Camp Ziuoani,” said Catapang.
The AFP chief expressed gratitude to the Syrian and Israeli governments for assisting in the “escape” of Filipino peacekeepers. He also cited the role played by the United States and Qatar in safeguarding the Filipino troops.
“We commend our soldiers for exhibiting resolve even while under heavy fire. This manifests their determination to fulfill our commitment to the community of nations,” said Catapang.
Malacañang, for its part, said while it it the state’s interest to ensure safety of Filipino troops, the government will not turn back from its vow to aid in international peace keeping.
“It is in our nation’s interest to give priority to (the soldiers’) safety but we will not turn our backs on our commitment to global security particularly in the Golan Heights and the Middle East,” Presidential Communications Operations Office Secretary Herminio Coloma said.
The Palace also expressed its gratitude to the UN force as well as Syria, Israel, Qatar and the United States for their assistance in the crisis. With Joshua L. Labonera and AFP

Army officer killed in clash with Abu Sayyaf

Monday, 01 September 2014 00:00 Published in Headlines

An Army captain was killed during an encounter between the elite Special Forces and terrorist Abu Sayyaf group in Basilan province last Saturday.
Military reports identified the slain officer only as Captain Gamboa, leader of the Special Forces
Team that clashed with undetermined number of Abu Sayyaf terrorists along the vicinity of Sitio Basak Tiki, Barangay Calagusan in Lantawan around 6:20 p.m.
Reports said the Army troops were conducting combat operation when they encountered the group, led by a certain Halang alias Commander Jeck.
Gamboa was airlifted to Edwin Andrews Air Base in Zamboanga City and then transferred to Camp General Basilio Navarro General Hospital in the same city but was declared dead on arrival, reports added.
Abu Sayyaf, which is on a US list of “terrorist organizations,” has conducted bombings, extortion, kidnappings and beheadings, and has targeted foreign missionaries and tourists in Mindanao.
An estimated 300 fighters, who are split into several factions, still hold several hostages in their Sulu jungle bases, including two European bird-watchers abducted two years ago.
A Chinese tourist and a Filipino hotel worker who were recently kidnapped in Malaysia’s Sabah state are also thought to be being held in Sulu.
Huge ransom payments have allowed Abu Sayyaf to survive and finance attacks despite Philippine military offensives.


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