PGMA bids goodbye to Ecarma

February 12, 2010 11:32 pm 

MANILA, Jan. 12 — President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo bid farewell on Friday to Maj. Gen. Natalio Ecarma III, former head of the Presidential Security Command and Marines commander, who was set to leave the country Sunday to head the 1,050-man United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) at the Golan Heights in Syria.

Ecarma met briefly and had a photo opportunity with the President at the San Francisco-Manila Sister City Committee (SFMSCC) luncheon meeting in Malacanang.

UN chose Ecarma for the position among other contenders that included a Croatian general. President Arroyo had submitted the general’s name to the UN Security Council.

Ecarma was surprised to learn of his selection, considering that he had no Middle Eastern experience.

He said it may have been his long stint in Mindanao, which taught him to be tolerant of religious differences, religions and views, while helping people to help themselves in remote communities.

“My experience will be of help to me in my new role,” he said.

As UNDOF commander, Ecarma will head 1,050 soldiers, 336 of them Filipino, with ranks ranging from sergeant to lieutenant colonel.

The UNDOF enforces a buffer between Israel and Syria in the Golan Heights -– a strategic region crucial to the defense of both countries. The armies of both countries bitterly fight over the Heights because of the military advantage it gives to whoever controls it.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Alberto Romulo, who accompanied Ecarma to the Palace, said earlier that the Philippines is honored to have been given responsibility to help oversee the peace in that part of the Middle East.

Ecarma replaces Maj. Gen. Wolfgang Jilke of Austria.

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

A product of the Philippine Military Academy (PMA), Class '81, Ecarma comes from a family of soldiers. 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.

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

Considered as “a soldier’s soldier,” he helped train and lead the Marines’ 1st Reconnaissance Battalion, considered the cutting edge of the Philippine military’s special operations forces.

He commanded the 3rd Marine Brigade in Mindanao and the Presidential Guards Battalion.

Ecarma finished courses given by the Philippine Army Scout Ranger, and the US Ranger. He has a master’s degree in military studies from the US Marines School in Quantico, Virginia, and a masters in national security administration and a Ph.D. from Taiwan.

Ecarma is also an active proponent of martial arts, Pekiti Tirsia, developed by Muslim chieftains to disarm 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. (PNA) scs/OPS/ssc

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