Filipino UN official placed on leave after defying superior
Alexis Romero (The Philippine Star) - September 3, 2014 - 5:44pm

MANILA, Philippines - Col. James Ezra Enriquez, the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) official who opposed an order for Filipino peacekeepers to surrender, was placed on administrative leave by the superior he defied.

Armed Forces public affairs chief Lt. Col. Ramon Zagala said Enriquez, the UNDOF Chief of Staff, was placed on leave after he had resigned from his post.

Enriquez offered to quit last Sunday due to differences with UNDOF Commander Lt. Gen. Iqbal Singh Singha, who had ordered Filipino troops surrounded by Syrian rebels to surrender their firearms and put up a white flag.

Enriquez, however, defied the order and insisted that the Filipino troops should escape from the rebels. 

“The message of Col. Enriquez states: “the force commander did not accept my resignation. I offered by resignation but he (placed) me on administrative leave until the final repatriation of our troops,” Zagala said in a press briefing Wednesday.

Zagala believes Enriquez’s decision to defy Singha is justified.

“As Chief of Staff of UNDOF, Col. Enriquez looked after the safety and security of members of UNDOF, in this case, the 40 members of Filipino peacekeepers that were at the standoff in Position 68,” Zagala said.

“He was just doing his mandate. Although he defied the force commander he was still true to his mission of protecting the security and safety of UNDOF troops,” he added.

Zagala clarified that Singh cannot act on Enriquez’s resignation because the Filipino officer was appointed directly by the UN. 

When asked whether the military is worried about the fate of Enriquez, Zagala said: “I think Col. Enriquez took a stand for our country and it is just right that the leadership of the Armed Forces of the Philippines and our government will support him.”

“What Col. Enriquez did was to defy an order that is against all logic, to give up your arms and put your own troops in danger. Now if there is any investigation on the matter we believe that Col. Enriquez justifiably did what he had to do,” he added. 

Zagala said Singh was a “poor commander” when he ordered the surrender of Filipino peacekeepers.

In a Facebook post, Enriquez said he does not regret defying Singh’s order.

“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 post read.

On Sunday, Filipino peacekeepers made what was described as “the greatest escape” from attacking Syrian rebels, ending a standoff that lasted for three days.

Armed Forces chief Gen. Gregorio Catapang, Jr. said the daring escape was made possible by the determination of Filipino troops and the “exemplary” team work among countries that send peacekeepers to the UN.

Last Thursday, Syrian rebels surrounded two forward positions manned by 75 Filipino soldiers and demanded that they surrender their firearms. Members of the Philippine contingent refused to yield, resulting in a two-day standoff.

A day earlier, Syrian militants held hostage 43 Fijian peacekeepers and seized their firearms. The Fijian troops are still being held by Al-Nusra Front, a group believed to have links with international terror cell Al- Qaeda.

A seven-hour firefight started last Saturday after Syrian rebels on board pick-up trucks attacked 40 Filipino troops in Position 68 at around 6 a.m. Syrian time (11 a.m. Philippine time). The attack prompted UNDOF to reposition its troops to a safer position.

Irish troops in armored vehicles fetched 35 Filipino soldiers in position 69, an area about four kilometers away from the site of the gun battle.

The remaining 40 Filipino troops in position 68 held their ground against about a hundred Syrian militants for about seven hours.

With the help of soldiers from Syria, Israel, United States and Qatar, the outnumbered Filipino contingent managed to escape unharmed from the rebels under the cover of darkness.

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