As I pack to leave for my United Nations (UN) post, I meet with heads of various UN agencies. The latest one reminded me how good we can be abroad.
On disaster relief, I had recounted how the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) was among the first to arrive on the scene but in a way that stole the show. A US aircraft carrier anchored off the calamity-stricken coast. Middle Eastern kings poured out treasure. And this and that country sent aid and aid workers. But the IDF landed first in Cebu and grabbed the attention and undying following of the public that watched them. There is something about being young, fit and bronzed—army sleeves rolled up above the elbows, getting down to serious business.
That is nothing, my companion said. When the Ethiopian government retreated to its last hold out, surrounded by larger rebel forces, the Israeli government negotiated with both sides to extract tens of thousands of Ethiopians from a refugee camp between the combatants. For days an armada of C-140s and other giant aircraft came and went, until every single refugee was airlifted to safety. This was the single fastest, biggest rescue in the history of humanitarian aid. The pretext? That Ethiopians—mostly black Numidians—are Israel's lost tribe, traced back to when King Solomon lay with the Queen of Sheba. To the stunning scale of the endeavor, Israel added a pinch of romance.
But that, my companion added, pales in comparison with the smaller but even more admirable effort when the Philippines extracted 16,000 Filipinos stranded in the Libyan civil war, sure to be exterminated by either or both sides of the political divide.
Using every big plane he could muster, including giant 747s, Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario pulled off a feat of crisis management with unprecedented courage and panache—and with his personal presence on the ground. This was unequalled in the annals of the United Nations.
My heart swelled at the story, as it did when I was told by one who was there. He heard the IDF erupt with applause outside the command tent. Filipino UN Peacekeepers, surrounded by Al Qaeda on the Golan heights, had chosen to fight rather than obey the UN commander’s order to give up without a fight. Why did they finally decide to escape their encircled situation and cross over to the Israeli side in a moonless desert night? "We ran out of bullets," came the Filipinos' terse reply.
While this act of insubordination will keep Filipino Peacekeepers out of the Golan heights, they already occupy a more elevated position in the esteem of the brave worldwide than the one they abandoned but only after a fierce firefight.
What a people we can be in a fight. That, too, was the spirit of EDSA which will never ever die.
Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.