MANILA – Filipino peacekeepers who pulled off their “greatest escape” on Saturday against Syrian rebels in the Golan Heights almost never transpired; thanks to a surrender order by their UNDOF commander.
The Filipinos ignored the order.
General Gregorio Pio Catapang, chief of the Armed Forces, made the revelation Monday even as he also called for an investigation on the commander of the United Nations Disengagement Force in charge of the Filipinos who issued the surrender order.
According to the general, the Filipinos were asked to lay down their arms apparently in a bid to save the lives of Fijian peacekeepers who had surrendered earlier to the Syrian rebels. They remain missing up to now.
However, the Filipinos defied their commander’s orders and defended their positions against the rebels. All of them later escaped unharmed and accounted for.
Catapang did not name the UNDOF commander, although his subordinates identified him as Major General Iqbal Sing Singha from the Indian military.
In opposition to the UNDOF commander’s call to lay down their arms, Catapang instead advised the Filipinos to stand their ground, noting that they cannot be compelled to surrender their firearms.
He also stated that there was no guarantee that the rebels would treat them well once they surrendered.
Asked what the consequences of their decision would be, Catapang answered that although it could affect the Filipinos’ standing within the UNDOF, “they have to understand that the safety of our soldiers is of primordial importance; it prevails over and above the Fijian situation.”
Colonel Roberto Ancan of the AFP Peace-keeping Operations Center also agreed with the Filipinos’ decision to stand their ground rather than surrender.
He noted that although they carried the colors of the UN, the national interest dictates that they place their safety at at all times. Thus, they can ignore any surrender order and use deadly force to defend themselves.