Sep 022014
GOLAN Heights Philippines

Members of the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) wave as they drive their armored vehicle in the Israeli-annexed Golan Heights near the Quneitra crossing, the only border crossing between Israel and Syria, on August 30, 2014. AFP FILE PHOTO

MANILA, Philippines–The top Filipino commander in the Golan Heights has resigned as chief of staff of the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (Undof) in protest of the Undof force commander’s handling of the crisis in the two camps manned by Filipino peacekeepers.

Col. Ezra Enriquez, the head of the 7th Philippine Contingent, tendered his resignation to Undof Force Commander Iqbal Sing Singha last Sunday, Armed Forces Chief Gen. Gregorio Catapang said on Tuesday.

Catapang said Enriquez also filed an administrative leave from the Undof, which Singha granted, effective last Sunday until the end of the contingent’s tour of duty in October.

Enriquez, however, will continue to oversee the operations, and ensure the safety, of the Filipino troops until their repatriation to the Philippines, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief said.

Catapang defended Enriquez’s decision, describing it as an honorable act.

“It’s just like you have a boss and you are the secretary or the chief of staff, so if you are not anymore in good talking terms (with the boss), then it would just be an honorable act to file your resignation,” he said.

Col. Roberto Ancan, the chief of the AFP peacekeeping operations center, said Singha sent a message saying that “he respected the will of the national contingent commander to be relieved as chief of his staff and granted Enriquez’s administrative leave.”

Ancan explained that Enriquez held dual positions as national contingent commander and as Singha’s chief of staff.

As chief of staff, Enriquez oversees the staff officers as well as the operation environment of that area. As national contingent commander, he oversees the deployment of Filipino troops as well as the staff officers.

“While he’s on leave, he can still communicate with the force commander and, as national contingent commander, he still oversees our deployment,” Ancan said.

Catapang said he had been instructed by President Aquino to prepare a “blow-by-blow” report on the incidents involving UN Area Positions 68 and 69 in the Golan Heights, the encampments manned by Filipino peacekeepers that were attacked by Syrian rebels, and submit this to him on Wednesday.

The AFP chief has recommended the filing of a Philippine protest against the Undof force commander for endangering the lives of the Filipino peacekeepers, by issuing “vague, inconsistent and irrational orders.”

Should a protest be made, it will be coursed through the Department of Foreign Affairs, which will then forward it to the Philippine Permanent Mission in the United Nations in New York.

Catapang acknowledged that Singha has operational control of the command as far as separating Syria and Israel from fighting in the disputed territory is concerned.

However, he stressed that the Position 68 ground commander, Col. Nilo Ramones, had every right to disobey or overrule Singha’s order to raise the white flag and surrender their firearms to attacking Syrian rebels “inasmuch as that is not part of their job.”

Catapang stressed, however, that he was not calling for the relief of Singha as Undof force commander.

“I reiterate that that was an unacceptable order because you know, General Singha should not make the soldiers sacrificial pawns in order for the Fijians (peacekeepers) to be freed by the hostage-takers or the kidnappers or the rebels,” he stressed.

Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma told a press briefing on Tuesday that the President had asked the AFP and the defense department for a report on the Golan Heights incident because he “would like some clearer policy perspectives in future deployments.”

“Let’s take into account the fact that General Catapang was narrating the events as told to him by the ground commanders so there is a need to understand all of those reports in perspective and in context,” he said.

Coloma said the report would be “a guide to future policy and actions in similar situations.”

He said the President had “expressed his satisfaction and his commendation to the Filipino peacekeepers, who acted in a very courageous and determined manner.”–With Nikko Dizon and Christine Avendaño 

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