Peacekeepers’ commander must be probed – AFP chief
by WILLIAM B. DEPASUPIL REPORTER
ARMED Forces chief Gen. Gregorio Pio Catapang wants the commander of the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (Undof) investigated for alleged indecisiveness that put the life of the Filipino peacekeepers in danger during the standoff with Syrian rebels.
Catapang said Undof commander Maj. Gen. Iqbal Singh Singha twice ordered the Filipinos to surrender their firearms and to raise the white flag if attacked.
“Yung una sabi i-surrender ang firearms para malibre yung Fiji. Ngayon nag ceasefire, nag negotiate yung Undof sa mga rebels, ang bagong order is to surrender ang firearms para sa safe passage ng sundalo. Eh nagkaputukan na, and then pag inatake daw kami itaas na lang yung white flag,” Catapang narrated.
He explained that the negotiations led to a deadlock because the rebels reasoned that the turnover of firearms is symbolic to them.
“I told them that to us it is not only symbolic, it is our honor that is at stake,” Catapang said.
He noted that had the Filipinos complied with the directive of the Undof commander, they would have been taken hostage also by the rebels, which would have complicated the situation more.
“What I was telling the Undof commander is save the Philippines first and then we will help the Fijians later because what Fiji did was surrender their firearms and thereafter they were taken hostage,” Catapang said.
The AFP chief said the Undof commander should be probed for his actions while the peacekeepers were under siege.
“He does not need to apologize, what is needed here is for him to be investigated,” Catapang stressed.
Under the UN guidelines on peacekeeping, the operational authority lies on the Undof commander.
Catapang admitted that his decision to overrule the Undof commander can affect the country’s relations with the UN.
However, he stressed that the safety of the Filipino peacekeepers is of primordial importance and that national policy can prevail.
Col. Roberto Ancan, commander of the AFP Peacekeeping Operations Center, said as a troop contributing country, national interest will prevail.
He added that the firearms of the Filipino peacekeepers belong to the Philippine government.
Ancan said the Filipino troops also did not want to follow the Undof commander’s order.
“Our troops on the ground didn’t want to do that, to surrender our firearms and it was relayed to me and I also told them that it’s a no go because in the rules of engagement, you can use deadly force if that is to defend yourself and the UN facilities,” he said.
He explained that violation of the rules of engagement in peacekeeping operations is subject to investigation by the troop contributing country or by the UN.
But Ancan noted that the Filipino troops remain committed to fulfill their mission. He said the Filipino contingent should have ended their tour of duty in June but it was extended to October.
More than 70 Filipino peacekeepers in the Golan Heights who came under attack from rebels are all safe after escaping over the weekend.
Last month, the Philippines said it will pull out its 331-strong contingent.
The Undof has 1,200 peacekeepers from the Philippines, Fiji, India, Ireland, Nepal and the Netherlands.
At the House of Representatives, Rep. Rodolfo Biazon of Muntinlupa City filed a resolution that seeks to commend the Philippine troops in the Golan Heights.
“The actions of the Chief of Staff, the Armed Forces and our peacekeepers are highly commendable and worthy of recognition as it showed to the international community the sterling qualities and dedication to duty of our soldiers even in the face of numerically superior forces. What they did was worthy of emulation,” Biazon, a former military chief, said in his resolution.
“Filipino peacekeepers refused to give in to the demand of the rebels and even engaged them in a firefight which lasted almost seven hours before they were able to extricate themselves from their beleaguered positions and proceed to areas manned by friendly forces without suffering any casualty,” he added.
The lawmaker cited the resolve of the AFP chief who urged the Filipino peacekeepers to defend their positions despite the UNDOF commander’s order to raise a white flag.