Sep 062014

In this handout photo taken on October 2013 and released by Philippine Armed Forces public affairs office (AFP-PAO) on August 29, 2014 shows officers and men of the 7th Philippine peacekeeping force bound for the Golan Heights posing for photos during their send-off ceremony at the army heradquarters in Manila. Heavily armed Philippine peacekeepers defied Syrian rebels on August 29 in a Golan Heights standoff hours after the gunmen disarmed and took hostage 43 Fijian soldiers there, Filipino authorities said. AP

MANILA, Philippines – The Filipino peacekeepers in Golan Heights who made a daring escape from the Syrian rebels after being locked in a standoff “could hardly be called cowards,” Malacanang said Saturday.

“For someone fighting and engaging the enemy for seven hours, that’s hardly…that can hardly be called cowardice,” Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said on radio.

Lacierda was reacting to the accusation of Lieutenant General Iqbal Singha, the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) commander, that the escape of the Filipino peacekeepers from the Syrian rebels was an act of cowardice and disobedience to the UN chain of command.

The Filipino peacekeepers said that Singha ordered them to surrender their firearms to the rebels, which the Filipino rebels did not do.

This, however, was denied by Singha and the UN.

“The situation in the ground is something that the Filipino peacekeepers were very well aware of. They’re the ones in the ground. They’re the ones taking enemy fires and they’re the best persons to say on what to do in those situations—in those kinds of situation,” Lacierda said.

“So I think and we believe that the decision of the Filipino peacekeepers because of low ammo, and because they refused to be taken and refused to surrender, they did a brave and a gallant decision to hold the enemy for seven hours and, in the end, decide not to surrender to the Syrian rebels,” he added.

Malacanag supported the decision of Filipino peacekeepers to defend themselves against attacking Syrian rebels and even commended their courage.

“So let me commend our Filipino peacekeepers. They were very gallant in defending their position, and certainly, they will be appreciated and recognized and they will be commended for their bravery in putting themselves in harm’s way,” he said.

The Palace official said Malacanang would let the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) address the issue after Singhal denied that he ordered the peacekeeprs to surrender their firearms.

“Whatever General (Iqbal) Singha says, or said, or has said, we leave it to our Department of Foreign Affairs to address those concerns. And UN (United Nations) being an international institution, we would rather let the diplomatic channels address those statements of General Singha,” he said.

On Friday, General Gregorio Pio Catapang Jr., chief of Staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, also hailed the courage of our Filipino peacekeepers, stressing that their escape was not an “act of cowardice.”

Catapang said the AFP has submitted a report to President Benigno Aquino III on the four-day standoff in Golan Heights.


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