Palace stands by PH peacekeepers' decision

By Jorge Cariño, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Sep 05 2014 06:58 PM | Updated as of Sep 06 2014 02:58 AM

DFA taking steps to address peacekeepers' concerns

MANILA - Malacañang assured that the government will stand by the decision of Filipino soldiers stationed in Golan Heights to leave their post and not surrender to Syrian rebels.

The statement was issued by Presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda in response to United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) Commander Iqbal Singh Singha's statement that the Filipinos committed an act of cowardice in the Golan Heights.

"We stand by our Filipino peacekeepers, they did the right decision. As to the statement of General Singha, we would rather let the DFA (Department of Foreign Affairs) issue a statement to that effect," said Lacierda.

He said it was hard for the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the Filipino peacekeepers to imagine surrendering to the rebels.

At that time, the Syrian rebels were closing in on the Filipino soldiers in position 68. The soldiers were also running low on ammunition.

Lacierda explained that the Filipino peacekeepers were deployed to Golan Heights to keep the peace between Israel and Syria. But when the Syrian rebels intervened, the rules of engagement changed, he said.

"While the peacekeepers are not supposed to take any offensive operation; however, they were attacked and so they would have to defend themselves. This is a situation that was apparent and was obvious in the situation between the Syrian rebels and Philippine troops. And we believe that -- and we are very certain -- that our Philippine troops, our Filipino peacekeepers, made the right decision," said Lacierda.

But he clarified that they do not want to exacerbate the situation and will leave it to the DFA to address the issue raised by Singha.

Diplomatic channels

Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario, meanwhile, through DFA spokesman Charles Jose, said the Philippines is taking steps to address the peacekeepers' concerns.

Jose refused to elaborate on what steps they are taking to resolve the issue, but said that the Philippines' UN mission is handling it through diplomatic channels.

A source in the DFA said one of their options is to write a letter to the UN and hold a dialogue with them to express the complaints and grievances of the leadership of the AFP.

In an interview with a Noida-based newspaper, Singha criticized the alleged defiance of the 40 trapped Filipino peacekeepers as non-professional. He said their actions endangered the lives of the abducted Fijian soldiers.

Singha also insisted that the Filipino troops broke the chain of command. He called the escape of the 40 troops from position 68 as an act of cowardice.

Earlier, the leadership of the AFP called for an investigation of Singha's order for Philippine troops to surrender their arms to the Syrian rebels. -- With a report by Jay Ruiz, ABS-CBN News