Filipino peacekeeper in Golan Heights quits post

By Chiara Zambrano, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Sep 02 2014 04:04 PM | Updated as of Sep 03 2014 12:06 AM

MANILA - Citing lack of confidence in the commander of the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) in Golan Heights, at least one Filipino officer has been asked by the Armed Forces of the Philippines to resign from the UNDOF.

Col. Ezra Enriquez has resigned as chief of staff of UNDOF commander Maj. Gen. Iqbal Singh Singha, after the latter demanded that the Filipino peacekeepers in Position 68 surrender their arms to the Syrian rebels from the al-Nusra Front in exchange for the freedom of the 43 Fijian peacekeepers abducted by the rebels.

"It is just like you have a boss and you are the secretary. If you are not anymore in good talking terms, it would also be an honorable act to file their courtesy resignation," said AFP chief of staff General Gregorio Catapang Jr.

The AFP earlier revealed that "the greatest escape," or the nighttime evacuation of 40 Filipino peacekeepers from Position 68, was actually an act of defiance of the Philippines against the order of Gen. Singha.

The AFP originally consulted Singha about the escape plan, but the commander refused to sanction it, insisting that the peacekeepers in Position 68 sacrifice their arms.

"We were informing him (Singha) that we will escape, but he told Col. Enriquez, 'I don't want to hear your plans," Catapang said.

As a result, the 40 Filipino soldiers had to extricate themselves out of Position 68, walking past land mines and sleeping Syrian rebels to get themselves to safety.

The AFP is now finalizing the after-mission report on the incident for submission to the Malacanang.

As a participating nation, the Philippines has the right to launch an investigation into the actions of Gen. Singha. Catapang said it will be up to the President to decide whether to do so or not.

Catapang, however, continues to condemn the force commander's decision.

"That was unacceptable. Gen Singha should not make the soldiers a sacrificial pawn in order for the Fijians to be allegedly freed by the hostage takers," said Catapang.

The AFP chief also revealed that the peacekeepers of Position 68 were already running low on ammunition after engaging the rebels in a firefight for 7 straight hours, making the need for extrication or rescue more urgent. But Catapang said the force commander would have none of it.

"General Singha ordered no military operations. He put a stop to it. He told us when the next attack comes in, surrender your firearms and put up a white flag,'' Catapang said.

''But you know we were monitoring them, and they were amassing, regrouping. We think the following day we will be attacked again and that would be the end of it. We will be massacred as the good Secretary Voltaire Gazmin stated. So we planned for the 'greatest escape.'"

"Our firearms are not for gives. It is a great dishonor for us if we give our firearms,'' he added.

Despite the disagreement, the AFP said it is still willing to re-deploy troops to the UNDOF again.