Filipino general to lead UN forces in Golan Heights

By Rodney J. Jaleco, ABS-CBN North America News Bureau

Posted at Jan 22 2010 01:51 AM | Updated as of Jan 22 2010 09:31 PM

Marines Maj. Gen. Natalio Ecarma III receiving award in this file photo

WASHINGTON DC - A Filipino Marine general with a distinguished military pedigree and who once commanded President Arroyo’s guard battalion will take over the United Nations peacekeeping force in the Golan Heights, the Philippine Mission to the United Nations announced.

Maj. Gen. Natalio Ecarma III was appointed as the new Force Commander and Head of Mission of the 1,050-man United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) in the Golan Heights.

The UNDOF enforces a buffer between Israel and Syria in the Golan Heights – a strategic region that’s crucial to the defense of both countries. Because of its location and elevation, whoever controls the Heights achieves a big military advantage and is often the first place warring armies fight for.

“The Philippines is honored to have been given the responsibility of helping oversee the peace in that part of the Middle East,” Foreign Affairs Secretary Alberto Romulo was quoted as remarking in Manila.

Ecarma replaces Maj. Gen. Wolfgang Jilke of Austria.

The UNDOF is composed of troops from Austria, Canada, Croatia, India, Japan and the Philippines.

Ecarma comes from a family of soldiers, products of the Philippine Military Academy. His grandfather Col. Natalio Ecarma joined the Philippine Constabulary in 1923; his father, Air Force Brig. Gen. Rodolfo Ecarma graduated from PMA in 1954; an uncle, Brig. Gen. Renato Ecarma belongs to PMA Class ’55.

Ecarma himself belongs to PMA Class 81, among the first in his batch to earn star-rank.

He is presently Deputy Commandant of the Philippine Marine Corps and concurrently commander of Marine Forces Southern Philippines.

He helped train and lead the Marines’ 1st Reconnaissance Battalion – considered the cutting edge of the Philippine military’s special operations forces. Ecarma is largely seen in the military as a “soldier’s soldier”, tough and competent.

He commanded the 3rd Marine Brigade in Mindanao and the Presidential Guards Battalion, the main operating unit of the Presidential Security Group.

He graduated from the Philippine Army Scout Ranger course, Special Forces Operations course, US Ranger course in Fort Benning in Georgia state; a Masters degree in Military Studies from the US Marines school in Quantico in Virginia state; a Masters in National Security Administration; and a Ph.D. from a Taiwanese institution.

Ecarma is also an active proponent of the extreme martial of Pekiti Tirsia, a system developed by Muslim chieftains using local swords or disarming sword-wielding opponents.

The last Filipino to lead a UN force was Maj. Gen. Jaime de los Santos in East Timor. The first Philippine peacekeeping contingent deployed under the UN was in 1963 in Congo.