Filipino peacekeepers’ defiance of order to surrender recalled
MANILA, Philippines–Differences with the commander of the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (Undof) in the handling of the crisis involving the attack by Syrian rebels on UN Area Position 68 manned by 40 Filipino peacekeepers on the Golan Heights last week drove the Filipino chief of staff of the Undof to tender his resignation last Sunday.
Lt. Gen. Iqbal Sing Singha had ordered the Filipino peacekeepers to raise the white flag and surrender their firearms to Syrian rebels while negotiations were taking place for the release of 44 Fijian peacekeepers, who had surrendered and were taken hostage by the rebels.
But the Filipinos defied Singha’s order and instead engaged the rebels in battle and later escaped after a seven-hour fire fight.
Armed Forces of the Philippines Chief of Staff Gen. Gregorio Pio Catapang submitted a “blow by blow” report to President Aquino based on the accounts of Col. James Ezra Enriquez, commander of the 7th Philippine Contingent to the Golan Heights peacekeeping operation, and other ground commanders of the contingent, including the account of Capt. Nilo Ramones, leader of the Filipino troops who stood their ground and defended Position 68.
In his report, Catapang said Singha had compromised the safety of Filipino peacekeepers by issuing vague and inconsistent orders to Enriquez during the standoff at Position 68.
Catapang said that in Singha’s first order to Enriquez, the Undof Force commander wanted the Filipinos in Position 68 to surrender their firearms to Syrian rebels who had surrounded the UN encampment.
In the second order, Singha told Enriquez to order his colleagues to raise the white flag and surrender their firearms “in exchange for the freedom” of the hostages when the rebels attacked them.
In the third order, Singha told Enriquez to order his men to raise the white flag and surrender their firearms.
Put it in black and white
Catapang said he got furious after hearing Singha’s orders as relayed by Enriquez.
“I told Iking (Enriquez) that we don’t negotiate with terrorists. I told Iking to tell General Singha that I might change my decision if he (Singha) put his surrender order to our troops in “black and white,” Catapang told the Inquirer in an interview.
“But General Singha did not want to put his order in writing. And when told by Iking of his escape plan, General Singha said, ‘I don’t want to hear your plans. I don’t have anything to do with your plans,’” Catapang said.
Catapang said he then approved Enriquez’s order to relay the escape plan to Capt. Nilo Ramones, leader of the Filipino troops who stood their ground and defended Position 68.
Catapang said Singha should have ordered the troops in Position 68 to be extricated early, just like in Position 69, which was manned by 35 Filipino peacekeepers who fought the rebels then fled their encampment with help from Syrian troops, Irish and other Filipino peacekeepers on Saturday.
On foreign news reports quoting Singha as denying having issued surrender orders to Enriquez, Catapang said, “That’s what I’m saying. That’s why I wanted him to put his orders in black and white. Because he could deny giving them later.”
He continued: “So let it be if he denied it. What is important is our troops are safe now.”
Meanwhile, Singha has rejected Enriquez’s resignation, and instead approved a monthlong administrative leave that Enriquez filed.
Lt. Col. Ramon Zagala, AFP spokesman, explained that as direct hires of the United Nations, Enriquez and other members of the Undof chain of command serve under the world body.
As such, only the United Nations can accept their resignations, Zagala said.
Enriquez’s leave took effect on Sunday and would last until the repatriation of the Filipino troops in October, the end of their tour of duty.
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