UNDOF commander a 'poor commander’ – Zagala
MANILA - Colonel James Ezra Enriquez, the Filipino chief of staff of the United Nations Disengagement Observation Force (UNDOF) who defied the direct order of his immediate superior, has been ordered to go on leave of absence.
"Col. James Enriquez, because of his disagreement with the Force Commander of the UNDOF, offered his resignation as the Chief of Staff. But the Force Commander put him on administrative leave pending repatriation," said Lt. Col Ramon Zagala, chief of the AFP Public Affairs Office.
Enriquez, the third highest officer in the UNDOF and concurrent national contingent commander of the Philippine peacekeepers, resigned from his position as the chief of staff of UNDOF Force Commander Lt. Gen. Singh Singha.
Singha had ordered the 40 Filipino peacekeepers trapped in position 68 to surrender their firearms to the Syrian rebels in exchange for their supposed safe passage. The rebels also dangled in front of them the captured Fijian peacekeepers.
Enriquez questioned the order, and instead proposed that the Filipinos be extricated back to safety since they were already low on ammunition after engaging in a 7-hour firefight.
Singha disapproved the request, prompting Enriquez to defy him and begin planning what would now be known as "the greatest escape."
In a message sent to the Armed Forces of the Philippines, Enriquez said, "The Force Commander did not accept my resignation. I offered my resignation but he put me on administrative leave until the final repatriation departures."
Only the United Nations may act on Enriquez's resignation, being the organization that hired him directly.
The AFP said it will support Enriquez should Singha file a complaint against him.
"We have to look at the mission of the UNDOF. The mission is the separation of Syria and Israel, and ensure the safety of all peacekeepers in that mission area. He was just doing his mandate," Zagala said.
The AFP is also open to an investigation on the incidents surrounding "the greatest escape.”
Singha had been open to, and had in fact facilitated, the extrication of Filipinos from positions 60 and 69. Singha was reportedly on his way to position 68 to facilitate the extrication when he changed his mind.
"Then he changed his orders, we don't know why. Let us look at the reason the Force Commander changed his decision, because it defies any military logic,” Zagala said.
AFP Chief of Staff General Gregorio Catapang Jr. also attempted to speak to Singha after the latter ordered the Filipinos to surrender, "but he [Singha] refused to talk to Gen. Catapang. Maybe because there were differences already,” Zagala added.
It was Enriquez who gave the order for the Filipino troops to leave position 68.
Zagala said the AFP and the Philippine government fully supported this decision and will stand behind Enriquez should he be investigated.
"Col. Enriquez took a stand for our country. It is only right that the AFP leadership support him."
On his Facebook account, Enriquez posted a photo of a strip of paper with a handwritten note.
The note read: “WE WILL NOT SURRENDER. WE WILL DEFEND OUR POSITION AT ALL COST. ENSURE SAFETY OF OUR TROOPS, AND WE WANT IMMEDIATE EXTRICATION OF OUR TROOPS AT POSITION 68."
Enriquez captioned it: "GEN. CATAPANG'S GUIDANCE!"
It was dated August 31, the same day of "the greatest escape."
Zagala believes that the platoon on position 68, led by Captain Nilo Ramones Jr., was not told of the disagreements that took place at the UNDOF headquarters.
"The last thing the troops should hear is pinapabayaan ka,” he said.
On September 2, Enriquez published another Facebook post, saying: “I have been in the military service for 30 years and never defied tactical, operational, or administrative orders from my superiors, until that stand-off in position 68. I made the right decision."
The AFP is still finalizing its after-mission report that will be submitted to Malacanang.
Asked what he thought of the actions and decisions of Singha, Zagala answered bluntly: “He is a poor commander."