AFP chief gets CA nod, cited for UN escape
Marvin Sy (The Philippine Star) - September 4, 2014 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - The Commission on Appointments (CA) yesterday confirmed Gen. Gregorio Pio Catapang as chief of staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.

The CA commended Catapang for the “great escape” of Filipino peacekeepers in Syria.

Catapang was accompanied in the hearing by 51 other senior military officers whose appointments were also taken up by the CA.

Aside from Catapang, the CA confirmed the appointments of Lt. Gen. John Bonafos; Maj. Generals Victor Bayani and Edwin Remotigue, and Brig. Generals Inocencio Mayangao, Angelito de Leon, Arnold Mancita and Irma Almoneda.

Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez and Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV said they would file resolutions commending Catapang and the Filipino peacekeepers involved in the Golan Heights incident.

Rodriguez said Catapang should be commended for deciding to ignore an order of a commander of the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) in the Golan Heights for the Filipino peacekeepers to surrender to Syrian rebels.

“The fact that they fought, did not surrender and were able to withdraw honorably and without any casualty showed that General Catapang is a leader of the Armed Forces,” Rodriguez said.

Apart from the resolution commending Catapang, Rodriguez said he would also file a separate resolution asking the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) to urge the United Nations to increase the number of Filipino peacekeepers at the Golan Heights from 300 to 600.

Trillanes asked Catapang whether it was possible to promote the peacekeepers, which he said was a fitting reward for their bravery. He said he would file a resolution honoring the Filipino peacekeepers.

Catapang said the 40 peacekeepers disobeyed the order of UNDOF commander Lt. Gen. Iqbal Singh Singha to lay down their arms when the Syrian rebels surrounded them.

The peacekeepers escaped when the rebels fell asleep.

The AFP chief said it was against the national policy for soldiers to negotiate with terrorists.

“It was really the greatest escape of their lives,” Catapang said.

Impressed by the story, Negros Oriental Rep. George Arnaiz suggested that a movie be made depicting the ordeal of the Filipino peacekeepers.

DFA spokesman Charles Jose said the agency is consulting the UN about Singha’s order to the troops.

A complaint and investigation on Singha and his order were the subjects of the consultation.

In a television interview, Catapang said they consulted Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario about the order.

“Our national interest is paramount so we can overrule the order,” Catapang quoted the secretary as saying.

Col. James Ezra Enriquez, an UNDOF Filipino chief of staff, offered to resign in protest of Singha’s order that could have put the lives of his countrymen in danger.

Singha, however, placed Enriquez on administrative leave as the Filipino was not allowed to resign, said AFP public affairs chief Lt. Col. Ramon Zagala said.

“The force commander did not accept my resignation. Instead, he placed me on administrative leave until the final repatriation of our troops,” Zagala quoted Enriquez’s message in a press briefing yesterday.

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 the members of UNDOF, in this case, the 40 Filipino peacekeepers,” 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 Singha could not act on Enriquez’s resignation as the Filipino officer was an appointee of the UN.

Asked whether the military is worried about 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 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 Singha was a “poor commander” for ordering the surrender of Filipino peacekeepers.

In his Facebook post, Enriquez said he did not regret defying Singha’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 standoff in position 68.I made the right decision,” the post read.

Catapang said the Golan Heights incident and the government’s plan to pull Filipino peacekeepers out of the troubled region won’t affect the country’s stand as a troop contributor for UN international peacekeeping operations.

He said the military is ready to deploy Filipino peacekeepers under the United Nations Standby Arrangement System (UNSAS).

“We will remain a troop contributor for the UN. Would like to be part of the UNSAS, if ever there’s another contingent for deployment,” he said.

Under UNSAS, the decision to deploy or not resources – manpower and logistics – remains with the contributing member state. This places a participating government in a better position to plan and prepare its personnel, as well as facilitate the acquisition of equipment required for peacekeeping duties.– With Pia Lee-Brago, Alexis Romero, Jaime Laude

ALEXIS ROMERO ARMED FORCES CATAPANG ENRIQUEZ FILIPINO GOLAN HEIGHTS ORDER PEACEKEEPERS SINGHA ZAGALA
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