AFP CHIEF GETS CA NOD, CITED FOR U.N. PEACEKEEPERS ESCAPE 

SEPT 3 --The Commission on Appointments (CA) yesterday confirmed Gen. Gregorio Pio Catapang as chief of staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines. The CA commended Catapang for the “great escape” of Filipino peacekeepers in Syria. Catapang was accompanied in the hearing by 51 other senior military officers whose appointments were also taken up by the CA. Aside from Catapang, the CA confirmed the appointments of Lt. Gen. John Bonafos; Maj. Generals Victor Bayani and Edwin Remotigue, and Brig. Generals Inocencio Mayangao, Angelito de Leon, Arnold Mancita and Irma Almoneda. Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez and Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV said they would file resolutions commending Catapang and the Filipino peacekeepers involved in the Golan Heights incident. Rodriguez said Catapang should be commended for deciding to ignore an order of a commander of the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) in the Golan Heights for the Filipino peacekeepers to surrender to Syrian rebels.

“The fact that they fought, did not surrender and were able to withdraw honorably and without any casualty showed that General Catapang is a leader of the Armed Forces,” Rodriguez said. Apart from the resolution commending Catapang, Rodriguez said he would also file a separate resolution asking the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) to urge the United Nations to increase the number of Filipino peacekeepers at the Golan Heights from 300 to 600. Trillanes asked Catapang whether it was possible to promote the peacekeepers, which he said was a fitting reward for their bravery. He said he would file a resolution honoring the Filipino peacekeepers. Catapang said the 40 peacekeepers disobeyed the order of UNDOF commander Lt. Gen. Iqbal Singh Singha to lay down their arms when the Syrian rebels surrounded them. The peacekeepers escaped when the rebels fell asleep. The AFP chief said it was against the national policy for soldiers to negotiate with terrorists. “It was really the greatest escape of their lives,” Catapang said. *READ MORE...

ALSO: PH peace force in Syria ready to use 'deadly force' to defend themselves

AUGUST 30 --PHOTO: Col. Roberto Ancan, commanding officer of the peace-keeping operations
center, points to a map of the Golan Heights, where Filipino peacekeepers are in a standoff with Syrian rebels, during a press conference in Camp Crame on Aug. 29.
AFP. SEVENTY-FIVE Filipino members of a UN peacekeeping force besieged by Syrian rebels on the Golan Heights are ready to use “deadly force” to defend themselves, their commander in Manila said Friday. Talks were underway to free a separate group of 43 peacekeepers from Fiji who have been taken hostage by the anti-Damascus fighters, officials said. The United Nations Security Council condemned the assaults against the peacekeepers, which it said were carried out by “terrorist groups and by members of non-state armed groups.”

The Filipino peacekeepers trapped at two posts on the Syrian side of the Golan Heights were prepared to fight back rather than surrender, their commander in Manila said. “We can use deadly force in defense of the UN facilities,” Col. Roberto Ancan told reporters. “I (would) just like to emphasize our troops are well-armed, they are well-trained... they are well-disciplined warrior peacekeepers.”  “They have M4 assault rifles, M60 light machine guns, K3 squad automatic weapons and caliber 45 pistols as well as sufficient ammunition to defend themselves,” he added. Syrian rebels, including fighters from the Al-Qaeda affiliate Al-Nusra Front, stormed a Golan Heights crossing on Wednesday, sparking an exchange of gunfire with Israeli troops. *READ MORE...

ALSO: 7 hours of fighting enemy is cowardice?’ 

SEPT 6 --Is standing your ground and never surrendering your firearms cowardice? That’s how Armed Forces of the Philippines Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gregorio Pio Catapang Jr. defended the 40 Filipino peacekeepers who refused to surrender and instead battled Syrian rebels on the Golan Heights for seven hours last week. “Seven hours of fighting the enemy, is that cowardice? I don’t think so,” Catapang said in response to questions about the accusation that Lt. Gen. Iqbal Singh Singha of India, commander of the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (Undof) on the Golan Heights, had thrown at the Filipino peacekeepers who defied his order to surrender their weapons and instead fought the rebels from the al-Qaida-linked Nusra Front who were holding 45 Fijian peacekeepers hostage. The fire fight, which began when the rebels attacked Undof Position 68 manned by the Filipinos after noon (about 5 p.m. in Manila) last Saturday, lasted till about midnight.
The rebels brought in reinforcements then rested, giving the Filipinos a chance to slip out of their encampment after midnight. They walked more than 2 kilometers to safety on the Israeli side of the ceasefire line between Israel and Syria at 1:50 a.m. (about 7 a.m. in Manila) on Sunday. *READ MORE...

ALSO: PHL troops’ Golan escape an ‘act of cowardice’ –UNDOF official  

SEPT 4 --PHOTO: UNDOF commander Lt. Gen. Iqbal Singh Singha inspects the Irish contingent in this March 2014 photo. Irish Defense ForcesA ranking official in the United Nations peacekeeping force in Golan Heights has accused the Filipino troops who defied his order of being unprofessional for allegedly endangering the lives of the Fijian peacekeepers held captive by Syrian rebels. “The non-professional [sic] actions of the Filipino troops have endangered the lives of the Fijian soldiers,” Lt. Gen. Iqbal Singh Singha said in a report on India Today. He said the Filipino soldiers “defied orders at a time when we had negotiated a ceasefire with the rebels to ensure that all troops in the conflict area could exit.”

By doing so, the Filipinos “broke the chain of command and UN orders,” Singha said. “It is an act of cowardice to desert posts especially when a delicate ceasefire was in place,” he added. The Philippine military has called for an investigation on Singha for allegedly putting the lives of the Filipino peacekeepers at risk by ordering them to lay down their weapons at the height of the standoff with Syrian rebels last week. The Filipinos defied the order and were able to escape eventually without casualties — an act lauded by the Philippine military brass. Backed by UN Singha said his order has the backing of the United Nations and the Indian Army. “The higher UN echelon as well as the Indian Army agrees with me that the decision was correct,” he said. *READ MORE...

ALSO: Heroes’ welcome awaits PH peacekeepers  

SEPT 5 --PHOTO: This handout photo taken in October 2013 shows the officers and men of the 7th Philippine peacekeeping force bound for Golan Heights during their sendoff ceremony at Army headquarters in Manila. The photo was released by the Armed Forces of the Philippines public affairs office on Friday, as news broke about heavily armed Filipino peacekeepers defying Syrian rebels in a stand-off at the Golan Heights hours after the gunmen disarmed and took hostage 43 Fijian soldiers. AFP FILE PHOTO

A heroes’ welcome awaits the Filipino peacekeepers in Golan Heights who made the daring escape from Syrian rebels over the weekend. “[On] October [they will] be coming back, let’s prepare for a heroes’ welcome for our soldiers,” Armed Forces of the Philippines Chief of Staff General Gregorio Catapang Jr. said on Friday. The soldiers were deployed to Golan Heights as peacekeepers November last year. Catapang said they are also studying if the soldiers will be promoted. The 300-plus Army contingent will pull out in October after their tour of duty ends. This was decided by the Philippine government days before the incident in Golan Heights, where Syrian rebels abducted Fijian peacekeepers and tried to do the same with Filipino peacekeepers but they were able to escape. Catapang described it “the greatest escape.” *READ MORE...

ALSO: ‘I’ll wipe out NPAs before retiring’  

SEPT 4 --“My target is to declare the entire country peaceful and ready for development before I step down,” the armed forces chief of staff said, preempting by one one year the forecast of the Aquino Administration to solve the insurgency before the end of the president’s term in 2016. “I think we have the momentum to declare the country peaceful and ready for development next year,” he said. Catapang was former commander of the Northern Luzon Command, who claimed he licked the communist New People’s Army (NPA) in the province of Pampanga. He promised to rid northern Luzon of NPA influence but encounters between troops and rebels continued.

Estimates of rebel strength in the countryside vary from 2,000 to 4,000 guerrillas under arms. The guerrillas are highly mobile and they move in small groups. Catapang said he believed the actual NPA strength was 2,000 active and another 2,000 inactive, which added up to a total of 4,000 men. “When I go around, I read (intelligence) reports and the usual sightings were 20 men. When I add them up, they are just hundreds. That’s why I’m asking the intelligence (community) to re-assess the situation,” he said. Catapang said the NPA remained active in some regions and they survive through extortion activities, making bomb attacks and putting on fire equipment of companies that refused to heed their demands. The Commission on Appointments (CA) confirmed the appointment of Catapang to general and the appointment of 51 other military officers after Filipino soldiers assigned as peace keepers in the Golan Heights stood their ground and defied demand from Syrian rebels to surrender. *READ MORE...


READ FULL REPORT HERE:

AFP chief gets CA nod, cited for UN escape


Catapang

MANILA, SEPTEMBER 8, 2014 (PHILSTAR) POSTED SEPTEMBER 3 By Marvin Sy - The Commission on Appointments (CA) yesterday confirmed Gen. Gregorio Pio Catapang as chief of staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.

The CA commended Catapang for the “great escape” of Filipino peacekeepers in Syria.

Catapang was accompanied in the hearing by 51 other senior military officers whose appointments were also taken up by the CA.

Aside from Catapang, the CA confirmed the appointments of Lt. Gen. John Bonafos; Maj. Generals Victor Bayani and Edwin Remotigue, and Brig. Generals Inocencio Mayangao, Angelito de Leon, Arnold Mancita and Irma Almoneda.

Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez and Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV said they would file resolutions commending Catapang and the Filipino peacekeepers involved in the Golan Heights incident.

Rodriguez said Catapang should be commended for deciding to ignore an order of a commander of the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) in the Golan Heights for the Filipino peacekeepers to surrender to Syrian rebels.

“The fact that they fought, did not surrender and were able to withdraw honorably and without any casualty showed that General Catapang is a leader of the Armed Forces,” Rodriguez said.

Apart from the resolution commending Catapang, Rodriguez said he would also file a separate resolution asking the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) to urge the United Nations to increase the number of Filipino peacekeepers at the Golan Heights from 300 to 600.

Trillanes asked Catapang whether it was possible to promote the peacekeepers, which he said was a fitting reward for their bravery. He said he would file a resolution honoring the Filipino peacekeepers.

Catapang said the 40 peacekeepers disobeyed the order of UNDOF commander Lt. Gen. Iqbal Singh Singha to lay down their arms when the Syrian rebels surrounded them.

The peacekeepers escaped when the rebels fell asleep.

The AFP chief said it was against the national policy for soldiers to negotiate with terrorists.

“It was really the greatest escape of their lives,” Catapang said.

* Impressed by the story, Negros Oriental Rep. George Arnaiz suggested that a movie be made depicting the ordeal of the Filipino peacekeepers.

DFA spokesman Charles Jose said the agency is consulting the UN about Singha’s order to the troops.

A complaint and investigation on Singha and his order were the subjects of the consultation.

In a television interview, Catapang said they consulted Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario about the order.

“Our national interest is paramount so we can overrule the order,” Catapang quoted the secretary as saying.

Col. James Ezra Enriquez, an UNDOF Filipino chief of staff, offered to resign in protest of Singha’s order that could have put the lives of his countrymen in danger.

Singha, however, placed Enriquez on administrative leave as the Filipino was not allowed to resign, said AFP public affairs chief Lt. Col. Ramon Zagala said.

“The force commander did not accept my resignation. Instead, he placed me on administrative leave until the final repatriation of our troops,” Zagala quoted Enriquez’s message in a press briefing yesterday.

Zagala believes Enriquez’s decision to defy Singha is justified.

“As chief of staff of UNDOF, Col. Enriquez looked after the safety and security of the members of UNDOF, in this case, the 40 Filipino peacekeepers,” Zagala said.

“He was just doing his mandate. Although he defied the force commander he was still true to his mission of protecting the security and safety of UNDOF troops,” he added.

Zagala clarified that Singha could not act on Enriquez’s resignation as the Filipino officer was an appointee of the UN.

Asked whether the military is worried about Enriquez, Zagala said: “I think Col. Enriquez took a stand for our country and it is just right that the leadership of the Armed Forces and our government will support him.”

“What Col. Enriquez did was to defy an order that is against all logic, to give up your arms and put your own troops in danger. Now if there is any investigation on the matter we believe that Col. Enriquez justifiably did what he had to do,” he added.

Zagala said Singha was a “poor commander” for ordering the surrender of Filipino peacekeepers.

In his Facebook post, Enriquez said he did not regret defying Singha’s order.

“I have been in the military service for 30 years and never defied tactical, operational or administrative orders from my superiors until that standoff in position 68.I made the right decision,” the post read.

Catapang said the Golan Heights incident and the government’s plan to pull Filipino peacekeepers out of the troubled region won’t affect the country’s stand as a troop contributor for UN international peacekeeping operations.

He said the military is ready to deploy Filipino peacekeepers under the United Nations Standby Arrangement System (UNSAS).

“We will remain a troop contributor for the UN. Would like to be part of the UNSAS, if ever there’s another contingent for deployment,” he said.

Under UNSAS, the decision to deploy or not resources – manpower and logistics – remains with the contributing member state. This places a participating government in a better position to plan and prepare its personnel, as well as facilitate the acquisition of equipment required for peacekeeping duties.– With Pia Lee-Brago, Alexis Romero, Jaime Laude

FROM THE MANILA STANDARD

PH peace force in Syria ready to use 'deadly force' to defend themselves By AFP, Sara Susanne D. Fabunan, Joyce Pangco Pañares, Florante S. Solmerin and Francisco Tuyay | Aug. 30, 2014 at 12:01am

Ready to fight back, use ‘deadly force’ vs Syrian rebels


Col. Roberto Ancan, commanding officer of the peace-keeping operations center, points to a map of the Golan Heights, where Filipino peacekeepers are in a standoff with Syrian rebels, during a press conference in Camp Crame on Aug. 29. AFP

SEVENTY-FIVE Filipino members of a UN peacekeeping force besieged by Syrian rebels on the Golan Heights are ready to use “deadly force” to defend themselves, their commander in Manila said Friday.

Talks were underway to free a separate group of 43 peacekeepers from Fiji who have been taken hostage by the anti-Damascus fighters, officials said.

The United Nations Security Council condemned the assaults against the peacekeepers, which it said were carried out by “terrorist groups and by members of non-state armed groups.”

The Filipino peacekeepers trapped at two posts on the Syrian side of the Golan Heights were prepared to fight back rather than surrender, their commander in Manila said.

“We can use deadly force in defense of the UN facilities,” Col. Roberto Ancan told reporters.

“I (would) just like to emphasize our troops are well-armed, they are well-trained... they are well-disciplined warrior peacekeepers.”

“They have M4 assault rifles, M60 light machine guns, K3 squad automatic weapons and caliber 45 pistols as well as sufficient ammunition to defend themselves,” he added.

Syrian rebels, including fighters from the Al-Qaeda affiliate Al-Nusra Front, stormed a Golan Heights crossing on Wednesday, sparking an exchange of gunfire with Israeli troops.

* The rebels then captured 43 Fijian members of the UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) on the Syrian side on Thursday, forcing them to surrender their weapons and taking them hostage.

Ancan said the rebels then used an English-speaking Fijian hostage to relay their demand to the Filipino peacekeepers to give up their weapons, but they refused.

Meanwhile, talks were underway to release the Fijian hostages, according to the Pacific nation’s Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama, who said they were believed to be safe.

“I want to assure the families of the soldiers we are doing everything possible to secure their safe return,” Bainimarama said in a statement

“The latest information we have is that they are safe and I can say now that the negotiations for their release have already begun.”

The UN Security Council demanded the “unconditional and immediate release of all the detained United Nations peacekeepers” and urged countries with influence to help win their release.

Manila called for the immediate release of the Fijian troops and the immediate withdrawal of all non-UN forces around UNDOF positions, foreign affairs spokesman Charles Jose told reporters.

“It likewise calls on the UN to exert every effort to ensure the safety and security of all peacekeepers of UNDOF,” he said.

The Philippine military said the soldiers were occupying two UNDOF posts about four kilometers apart.

The UN initially said 81 Filipinos were involved in the stand-off, however Filipino commander Ancan said there were 75.

UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said it was unclear which group had staged the attacks.

“Some groups are self-identified as affiliated to Al-Nusra but we are not able to confirm,” he said.

However, the US State Department said Al-Nusra was definitely involved, in a statement that emphasised the group was designated by the United Nations as a terrorist organisation.

The statement demanded the unconditional and immediate release of the Fijians.

The UNDOF has been stationed in the buffer zone of the Golan Heights since 1974 to monitor a ceasefire between Syria and Israel.

Israel initially seized 1,200 square kilometers of the Golan Heights during the 1967 Six-Day War, then annexed it in a move never recognized by the international community.

There are currently 1,200 peacekeepers: from the Philippines, Fiji, India, Ireland, Nepal and the Netherlands.

Since the Syrian war erupted in 2011, the plateau has been tense, with a growing number of rockets and mortar rounds hitting the Israeli side, mostly stray, prompting occasional armed responses.

The Philippines, which has 331 troops serving in UNDOF, announced on Saturday that it would pull out of the peace force because of security concerns.

Filipino defense officials said then no fresh troops would be sent once the current batch of soldiers returned from duty in October.

The new crisis had prompted the Philippines to consider pulling out the troops earlier than October, Foreign Affairs spokesman Jose said, although he emphasized no decision had been made.

Last year, the Philippines said it was considering pulling its Golan peacekeepers out after 25 of them were kidnapped but later freed by Syrian rebels in two separate incidents.

In assessing the latest crisis, UN officials noted the safe release of the Filipino peacekeepers last year.

President Benigno Aquino III described the situation in the Golan Heights as “tense” but also sought to calm fears about the fate of the Filipino troops.

“So far, we should not worry. The news is that the situation looks stable,” Aquino said after he cut short his trip to Oriental Mindoro.

“We continue to monitor the situation in the Golan Heights, especially the developments concerning the Filipino peacekeepers. It is our hope that this matter will be resolved in a safe manner in the soonest possible time,” presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said.

The Philippines called on the United Nation to exert every effort to ensure the safety and security all peacekeepers including the 75 Filipinos in the Golan Heights.

In a press conference, Foreign Affairs spokesman Charles Jose on Friday condemned the hostile actions against the Filipino and Fijian peacekeepers.

“The Philippines expresses grave concern for the escalation of violence in the Golan Heights and condemns hostile actions directed at UN peacekeepers,” Jose said.

“Reports indicate heavy fighting between Syrian government forces and elements of the Syrian armed opposition around the vicinity of Al Qunaytirah, a city inside the Area of Separation being manned by peacekeepers... including a 331-strong Philippine military contingent,” Jose said.

The fighting, he said, has affected several UNDOF outpost in the AoS, including those manned by Filipino peacekeepers.

The besieged Filipino peacekeepers are at Positions 68 and 69, with a distance of about four kilometers between them, Ancan said.

Ancan added that the families of the peacekeepers are well informed about the situation.

“As I’ve said the standoff remains as of the moment and the rebels are not attacking our positions. UN officials are handling the situation and we’re hopeful of swift de-escalation of the situation. We’ve direct communication with our peacekeepers and also with the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force and plans are being drawn and being considered to ensure the safety and security of our peacekeepers, which is our paramount concern,” he said.

FROM THE INQUIRER

7 hours of fighting enemy is cowardice?’ By Julie M. Aurelio and Nikko Dizon |Philippine Daily Inquirer3:18 am | Saturday, September 6th, 2014


CATAPANG

Is standing your ground and never surrendering your firearms cowardice?

That’s how Armed Forces of the Philippines Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gregorio Pio Catapang Jr. defended the 40 Filipino peacekeepers who refused to surrender and instead battled Syrian rebels on the Golan Heights for seven hours last week.

“Seven hours of fighting the enemy, is that cowardice? I don’t think so,” Catapang said in response to questions about the accusation that Lt. Gen. Iqbal Singh Singha of India, commander of the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (Undof) on the Golan Heights, had thrown at the Filipino peacekeepers who defied his order to surrender their weapons and instead fought the rebels from the al-Qaida-linked Nusra Front who were holding 45 Fijian peacekeepers hostage.

The fire fight, which began when the rebels attacked Undof Position 68 manned by the Filipinos after noon (about 5 p.m. in Manila) last Saturday, lasted till about midnight.

The rebels brought in reinforcements then rested, giving the Filipinos a chance to slip out of their encampment after midnight.

They walked more than 2 kilometers to safety on the Israeli side of the ceasefire line between Israel and Syria at 1:50 a.m. (about 7 a.m. in Manila) on Sunday.

Peacekeepers commended

On Wednesday, the UN Security Council issued a statement commending the peacekeepers “for their bravery in facing the threats and challenges in their area of operation.”

The Security Council condemned the detention of the 45 Fijian peacekeepers and demanded their “immediate and unconditional release.”

It also demanded that the Syrian rebels leave the ceasefire line on the Golan Heights and return the peacekeepers’ weapons, vehicles and other equipment.

Singha’s accusations

In a report published in India Today newspaper on Wednesday, Singha said the Filipino peacekeepers “broke the chain of command and UN orders.”

“The nonprofessional actions of the Filipino troops have endangered the lives of Fijian soldiers. They have defied orders at a time when we had negotiated a ceasefire with the rebels to ensure that all troops in the conflict area could exit,” Singha said.

“The higher echelon as well as the Indian Army agrees with me that the decision was correct. It is an act of cowardice to desert posts, especially when a delicate ceasefire was in place,” he added.

UN Undersecretary General for Peacekeeping Operations Hervé Ladsous defended Singha on Thursday and denied that the Undof commander had given orders for the Filipino soldiers to surrender their weapons to the rebels.
Right decision
But Malacañang said on Friday that it was sure that the Filipino peacekeepers made the right decision.

Presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda said it had been agreed that the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) would handle Singha’s accusations.

The DFA, however, refused to comment on Friday.

Charles Jose, spokesperson for the DFA, told reporters that the Philippine mission in the United Nations would handle the situation but he did not elaborate.

The government “does not want to exacerbate the situation,” Lacierda said.

Lacierda explained, however, that the Filipino peacekeepers were on the Golan Heights to help keep the ceasefire between Israel and Syria.

But the attack of the Syrian rebels changed the rules of engagement, he said. While the Filipino peacekeepers were not supposed to take offensive action, they needed to defend themselves when they were attacked.

“And so we stand by our… peacekeepers. They did the right decision,” Lacierda said.

Pull out now

Muntinlupa City Rep. Rodolfo Biazon took exception to Singha’s accusations, which he said should compel the Philippines to “immediately withdraw” all Filipino troops from the Golan Heights.

Biazon, chair of the House defense and security committee, said Singha ordered the Fijian peacekeepers to surrender their weapons to the Syrian rebels, leading to their being taken hostage.

“Our troops fought gallantly, even though they were running low on ammunition and there was the danger of their position being overrun by the attackers,” Biazon said.

Biazon, a former AFP chief of staff, questioned the competence of Singha.

“Why was there no reinforcement or ammunition resupply to the besieged Filipino contingent from the Undof led by Lieutenant General Singha?” he asked.

Biazon said the Philippine government should inquire into and clarify three things: the rules of engagement in UN peacekeeping deployments, the capability of the United Nations to reinforce besieged peacekeeping forces and the policy on what type of arms UN peacekeepers are allowed.

The Filipino peacekeepers were armed with M4 assault rifles, M60 light machine guns, Korean-made K3 light machine guns and .45-cal. M1911 pistols.

“It appears that the Filipino contingent did not have mortars and other high-performance… weapons, which are needed especially when UN forces are being attacked. However, despite our predicament, surrender to an unknown group was never considered an option by the Filipino contingent,” Biazon said.

No written order

Catapang, who monitored the crisis with defense and foreign affairs officials from Manila, divulged Singha’s order to surrender in a news conference on Monday and told reporters on Wednesday that he had demanded that Singha put his orders in writing because the Indian could deny it later. Singha refused and later denied he ordered the Filipinos to surrender their weapons.

On Friday, Catapang said the final word would come from President Aquino, to whom he had submitted a report on the crisis, including an account from Capt. Nilo Ramones, leader of the Filipino troops at Position 68.

The Syrian rebels seized 45 Fijian peacekeepers from Position 27 after taking their weapons last Wednesday then besieged the Filipinos’ Position 68 and Position 69, which was manned by 35 other Filipino peacekeepers.

The rebels demanded that the Filipinos hand over their weapons but the peacekeepers refused, triggering a standoff.
It appeared that Singha wanted the Filipinos to give in to the rebels’ demand to buy time for negotiations for the release of the Fijians.

But Catapang said there was no assurance that the Filipinos would not also be taken hostage.

The rebels attacked the two Undof positions last Saturday but were outsmarted by the Filipinos, who fought back with artillery support fire from Syrian troops then slipped out of their camps to avoid a massacre with assistance from the Syrians and Irish and other Filipino peacekeepers.

It’s Singha’s fault

On Thursday, Lt. Col. Ramon Zagala, spokesperson for the AFP, blamed the crisis on Singha, who he said could have repositioned the peacekeepers at Positions 68 and 69 earlier.

Instead, he said, Singha did nothing for the Filipinos and allowed the fire fight to go on for seven hours.

“He left us there. [We were running low on ammunition] and he told us that if we were attacked again, [we were] to lay down our arms and raise the white flag. Now [which is cowardly], his orders or [our taking] the best option to save Filipino soldiers’ lives?” Zagala said.

Col. Ezra Enriquez, Singha’s Filipino chief of staff, cleared the escape plan with defense and military officials in Manila.
Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin approved the plan, Catapang said.

After defying Singha’s order to surrender, Enriquez resigned and went on leave. He will return with the rest of the Philippine contingent of the Undof at the end of their tour of duty next month.

No blame game

On Friday, Catapang reiterated that the military does not want the crisis to become a blame game. The military has submitted its report to President Aquino, he added.

“What is important to us now is that we were able to save our soldiers. If they say something unfavorable, it’s out of the question for us,” Catapang told reporters.

He said the Filipino peacekeepers would not lie about being ordered by Singha to surrender their weapons.

“They won’t say something like that if it wasn’t true. That’s why they called the higher command …. And I said they should not give up their guns [to the Syrian rebels] if that was the order to [them],” he said.

Heroes’ welcome

Catapang said all the Filipino peacekeepers were safe and remained under the control of the United Nations. They will come home after their tour of duty next month, he said.

“Let’s prepare a heroes’ welcome for our soldiers,” Catapang said. He said the high command was studying promotions for the peacekeepers. With reports from DJ Yap and Niña P. Calleja

FROM GMA NEWS NETWORK

PHL troops’ Golan escape an ‘act of cowardice’ –UNDOF official September 4, 2014 5:34pm 121 363 0 1231


UNDOF commander Lt. Gen. Iqbal Singh Singha inspects the Irish contingent in this March 2014 photo. Irish Defense Forces

A ranking official in the United Nations peacekeeping force in Golan Heights has accused the Filipino troops who defied his order of being unprofessional for allegedly endangering the lives of the Fijian peacekeepers held captive by Syrian rebels.

“The non-professional [sic] actions of the Filipino troops have endangered the lives of the Fijian soldiers,” Lt. Gen. Iqbal Singh Singha said in a report on India Today.

He said the Filipino soldiers “defied orders at a time when we had negotiated a ceasefire with the rebels to ensure that all troops in the conflict area could exit.”

By doing so, the Filipinos “broke the chain of command and UN orders,” Singha said.

“It is an act of cowardice to desert posts especially when a delicate ceasefire was in place,” he added.

The Philippine military has called for an investigation on Singha for allegedly putting the lives of the Filipino peacekeepers at risk by ordering them to lay down their weapons at the height of the standoff with Syrian rebels last week.

The Filipinos defied the order and were able to escape eventually without casualties — an act lauded by the Philippine military brass.

Backed by UN

Singha said his order has the backing of the United Nations and the Indian Army. “The higher UN echelon as well as the Indian Army agrees with me that the decision was correct,” he said.

* Israel captured the Golan Heights from Syria in a 1967 war, and the countries technically remain at war. Syrian troops are not allowed in an area of separation under a 1973 ceasefire formalized in 1974.

The peacekeepers — formally known as the UN Disengagement Observer Force or UNDOF — monitors the area of separation, a narrow strip of land running 70 km from Mount Hermon on the Lebanese border to the Yarmouk River frontier with Jordan.

The controversy following the standoff has prompted top Filipino peacekeeper Col. Ezra James Enriquez, the third ranking officer in UNDOF, to tender his resignation. His superiors, however, rejected it and instead put him under administrative leave until their tour of duty ends in October.

Despite the controversy, the Philippine military, which said it is standing by its story regarding the standoff, is considering holding a hero's welcome for the peacekeepers when they return to the country. —Rie Takumi/KBK, GMA News

FROM THE INQUIRER

Heroes’ welcome awaits PH peacekeepers By Frances Mangosing |5:56 pm | Friday, September 5th, 2014 DAILY INQUIRER


This handout photo taken in October 2013 shows the officers and men of the 7th Philippine peacekeeping force bound for Golan Heights during their sendoff ceremony at Army headquarters in Manila. The photo was released by the Armed Forces of the Philippines public affairs office on Friday, as news broke about heavily armed Filipino peacekeepers defying Syrian rebels in a stand-off at the Golan Heights hours after the gunmen disarmed and took hostage 43 Fijian soldiers. AFP FILE PHOTO

MANILA, Philippines — A heroes’ welcome awaits the Filipino peacekeepers in Golan Heights who made the daring escape from Syrian rebels over the weekend.

“[On] October [they will] be coming back, let’s prepare for a heroes’ welcome for our soldiers,” Armed Forces of the Philippines Chief of Staff General Gregorio Catapang Jr. said on Friday.

The soldiers were deployed to Golan Heights as peacekeepers November last year.

Catapang said they are also studying if the soldiers will be promoted.

The 300-plus Army contingent will pull out in October after their tour of duty ends. This was decided by the Philippine government days before the incident in Golan Heights, where Syrian rebels abducted Fijian peacekeepers and tried to do the same with Filipino peacekeepers but they were able to escape.

Catapang described it “the greatest escape.”

* But the AFP chief claimed early this week that United Nations Disengagement Observer Force Commander General Iqbal Singh Singha of India ordered the Filipino soldiers surrender their arms and avoid harm from befalling the captured Fijians.

UN’s undersecretary general for peacekeeping Herve Lasdous supported Singha and said that no such order was given. He said the order was just not to shoot and not hand over the weapons.

Catapang said they decided not to further comment on the UN statements.

“We already submitted the report to the President and it’s up to him to decide. Hopefully he will be able to study. We don’t want this to be a blame game. What’s important was we were able to save our soldiers,” he said.

‘I’ll wipe out NPAs before retiring’ By Florante S. Solmerin, Macon Ramos-Araneta | Sep. 04, 2014 at 12:01am

The Philippines’ number one soldier, Gen. Gregorio Pio Catapang, made a fearless forecast on Wednesday to wipe out the 45-year-old communist insurgency before he retired from the service in 2015.


Confirmed. Armed Forces Chief Gen. Gregorio Pio Catapang salutes as the Commission on Appointments confirms him on Wednesday. Lino Santos

“My target is to declare the entire country peaceful and ready for development before I step down,” the armed forces chief of staff said, preempting by one one year the forecast of the Aquino Administration to solve the insurgency before the end of the president’s term in 2016.

“I think we have the momentum to declare the country peaceful and ready for development next year,” he said.

Catapang was former commander of the Northern Luzon Command, who claimed he licked the communist New People’s Army (NPA) in the province of Pampanga. He promised to rid northern Luzon of NPA influence but encounters between troops and rebels continued.

Estimates of rebel strength in the countryside vary from 2,000 to 4,000 guerrillas under arms. The guerrillas are highly mobile and they move in small groups.

Catapang said he believed the actual NPA strength was 2,000 active and another 2,000 inactive, which added up to a total of 4,000 men.

“When I go around, I read (intelligence) reports and the usual sightings were 20 men. When I add them up, they are just hundreds. That’s why I’m asking the intelligence (community) to re-assess the situation,” he said.

Catapang said the NPA remained active in some regions and they survive through extortion activities, making bomb attacks and putting on fire equipment of companies that refused to heed their demands.

The Commission on Appointments (CA) confirmed the appointment of Catapang to general and the appointment of 51 other military officers after Filipino soldiers assigned as peace keepers in the Golan Heights stood their ground and defied demand from Syrian rebels to surrender.

* The CA commended Catapang for the decision of the 40 Filipino soldiers to ignore the order of the commander of the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) to lay down their arms and escaped to safety after battling the Syrian rebels for several hours.

“This representation will file a resolution in Congress to congratulate our Armed Forces Chief of Staff, Gregorio Catapang, for a job well done, which was seen by the entire world. The world saw the Filipino flag at its highest,” said Rep. Rufus Rodriguez, who was part of the CA contingent of the House of Representatives.

‘Sen. Antonio Trillanes said the peace keepers should be given combat promotions and Rep. George Arnaiz proposed that a movie should be made of their achievement with the title “The Greatest Escape.”

“It’s a very good escape. We have to make a movie out of that escape, Mr. Chairman,” Arnaiz said.

The peace keeping mission of the Filipinos will change to peace enforcement if the Philippines will be asked to send an augmentation force in the strife-torn Syria, Catapang said.

“To secure peace, that’s no longer peace keeping, that’s enforcement operation,”Catapang said and Filipino soldiers will need additional firearms to defend themselves against enemies armed with mortars and high-powered firearms.

He said 331 troops are serving under the UNDOF, but they will be pulled out when their tour of duty ends in October.


Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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