Filipino peacekeepers in the Golan Heights have the full support of the Philippine government amid questions over their actions in the standoff with Syrian rebels, a Malacanang official said yesterday.
The Filipino peacekeepers said they resisted Syrian rebels despite orders from United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) commander Lt. Gen. Iqbal Singh Singha to surrender their firearms. However, UN Undersecretary-General for Peacekeeping Herve Ladsous denied that the Filipino peacekeepers were told to surrender to the Syrian rebels.
Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO) Secretary Herminio Coloma, Jr. said the Philippine government is awaiting the full report on the incident
“We are not opposing anything but of course, we stand by the bravery and excellence of our troops,” Coloma said in Filipino.
He said the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) is coordinating with the Department of National Defense (DND) as well as the United Nations on this matter.
“After all, the deployment of Filipino peacekeepers is a UN matter and that is a matter of international diplomacy for which the DFA is responsible,” he said.
Coloma also assured that the Filipino peacekeepers will complete their tour of duty in the Golan Heights until October.
“We will fulfill our commitments with the UN and our peacekeepers will complete their tour of duty in the Golan Heights in October,” he said. “We want to complete our tour of duty and wind down our UN commitment in the proper way.”
Coloma stressed that the decision to pullout the Filipino peacekeeping forces in the Golan Heights was not caused by the standoff last week.
“Even before the incident last week, the government has already announced its decision that the peacekeepers will just complete their tour of duty. It has nothing to do with the events last week,” Coloma said.
President Aquino has already directed the DND to submit a report on the Golan Heights incident that involved Filipino peacekeepers “as a guide for future policy and actions in similar situations.”
There are 331 Filipino peacekeepers in the Golan Heights.
Prior to the incident in August, the government said it was withdrawing its Filipino peacekeepers in the Golan Heights due to “a series of incidents involving peacekeepers which have demonstrated that they are exposed to unexpected serious risks which may worsen on the basis of current developments.”
Peacekeepers have been in the Golan Heights since 2009.
The Philippines is a major contributor to the United Nations’ peacekeeping operations. It is the third largest troop contributing country in Southeast Asia and 23rd worldwide.
Meanwhile, Sen. Teofisto “TG” L. Guingona III said the bravery shown by Filipino soldiers by not surrendering their firearms and later staging a “great escape” showed that “Filipinos are among the bravest peacekeepers the world.”
Guingona stressed this in Senate Resolution No. 881 commending the courage and bravery of Filipino peacekeepers in the recent conflict in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.
“These soldiers have exhibited extraordinary valor above and beyond their call of duty. They have demonstrated once again that Filipinos are among the bravest peacekeepers in the world,” he said.
On Aug. 28, Syrian rebels surrounded some 75 Filipino troops and demanded the surrender of their firearms. The Filipinos refused and stood their ground.
“It must have been a harrowing scenario,” Guingona said of the ensuing seven-hour firefight between the troops and Syrian rebels.
“Yet they have shown incredible courage and bravery amidst grave danger and conflict. They are true heroes,’’ he added.
Philippine military and police personnel are deployed in most of the 16 UN peacekeeping missions, such as in Golan Heights, Liberia, Sudan, and Haiti.