PH peacekeepers in Haiti back for much-needed vacation
MANILA, Philippines – Serving for almost a year in Haiti, Filipino troops that stood ground as United Nations Peacekeepers in the Caribbean country returned home Thursday.
Navy Captain Luzviminda Camacho, the first Filipino female commander in the UN, led the 17th Philippine Contingent to Haiti composed of 133 government troops, eight officers and 125 enlisted personnel, from the Philippine Navy.
Of the 133 soldiers aboard a UN-chartered flight from Vim Airlines, nine are women, including two officers.
Lieutenant Commander Marineth Domingo, Philippine Navy Public Affairs Office Chief, said there were originally 157 Navy troops that went to Haiti on Oct. 29, 2013 to serve as UN Peacekeepers.
She added that 24 still remained in Haiti, which has suffered from armed conflict for decades and a massive earthquake in 2010, to train and orient the 18th PCH that left the Philippines on Monday.
Despite the homecoming, none of the Peacekeepers’ family members greeted them.
General Gregorio Pio Catapang, Armed Forces of the Philippines Chief of Staff, Rear Admiral Jesus Millan, Philippine Navy Chief, and other troops stood as the welcoming party.
Domingo said that the peacekeepers would immediately go straight to the AFP Medical Center for a six-day quarantine.
“It would be quite heartbreaking for the soldiers if they would not be able to interact with their families when they return home,” Domingo said. “After their quarantine, they can go straight to their families and spend a month with them before reporting back to their mother commands.”
Even without their families to greet them when they arrived home, the peacekeepers, who brought with them some souvenirs and a game console, were still in high spirits when they arrived.
Camacho said that her troops have a unanimous goal upon returning home.
“After more than 10 months in Haiti, and six more days in quarantine, we all want to go to a vacation,” Camacho said smiling.
Speaking to his troops for a brief moment, Catapang shared some holiday joy and a few cheers.
“Advanced Merry Christmas to all and welcome back our heroes,” Catapang said.
Even seas and oceans away from home, Camacho said it was impossible for them to be sad as their camp was one big wi-fi zone.
She said that soldiers could talk to their families with no problem at all.
“We have modern technology, we have Viber, Facebook, e-mail, so our loved ones back and us can talk, there’s no sadness at all,” the mother of one said. “The whole camp is wi-fi ready, the soldiers won’t feel sad.”
She added that unlike the situation in Golan Heights, they did not feel threatened in Haiti citing that the country was “peaceful.”
“We served as the ambassadors of peace, we gave it all for the mandate of UN,” Camacho said.
“We have a different situation in Haiti, it’s peaceful there.”
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