AFP says UNDOF commander rejected resignation of Filipino chief-of-staff

September 4, 2014 7:00 am 

By Priam F. Nepomuceno

MANILA, Sept. 3 (PNA) — The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) on Wednesday announced that United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) commander, Lt. Gen. Iqbal Singh Singha, has rejected the resignation of his chief-of-staff, Col. James Ezra Enriquez.

Instead, the Indian commander has placed Enriquez on administrative leave until the repatriation of the 331-strong Filipino contingent in the Golan Heights is repatriated this October.

The latter earlier tendered his resignation due to differences in opinion regarding the handling of Singha of the Golan Heights stand-off crisis.

The UNDOF commander last Thursday ordered the Filipino contingents in Positions 68 and 69 to surrender their weapons upon learning that 44 Fijian peacekeepers were captured by Syrian rebels.

"Col. Enriquez, the chief-of-staff of UNDOF, because of disagreement with the force commander offered his resignation but the force commander instead put him on administrative leave until the repatriation of the troops from Golan Heights," said AFP public affairs office chief Lt. Col. Ramon Zagala.

He added that Enriquez cannot be faulted for countermanding the order of the UNDOF commander as he was only exercising his prerogative of protecting and ensuring the safety of Filipino troops under him.

Zagala also said that the primary mission of the UNDOF is to ensure the separation of Israel and Syria from the Golan Heights so that their forces will not fire at each other.

The AFP public affairs office chief said that another reason why the UNDOF commander did not accept Enriquez's resignation is that the latter together with other staff are inducted directly by the UN, meaning they are selected directly by the world body, unlike members of the peacekeeping mission who were selected and deployed there by their respective countries.

And on claims that Singha denied ordering the surrender of Filipino troops, Zagala said it is a recognized fact that the UNDOF commander did order the repositioning of Positions 68 and 69 but change his mind on Position 68.

This took place during the height of the stand-off.

"We do not (know) the reason why he changed his orders, the orders of the force commander as relayed by Col. Enriquez was for Filipino troops to raise the white flag and give up their arms (when another rebel attack takes place) so what does that tell you," he added.

The AFP was earlier instructed to prepare a detailed report concerning the stand-off in the Golan Heights.

This was confirmed by AFP chief-of-staff Gen. Gregorio Pio Catapang Tuesday.

"We were instructed by the President (Benigno Aquino III) (to prepare the report) during a meeting together with the Secretary of National Defense. (The AFP was told) to document the blow-by-blow events that occurred," he added.

Catapang said it will (be) up to higher authorities to decide on whether the Philippines will file a protest regarding the handling of the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) commander on the matter.

The filing of protest is a right of the Philippine government as a troop contributing nation to UN peacekeeping missions.

Catapang earlier said that AFP countermanded the order of Singha which called for the Filipinos in Position 68 and 69 to surrender their weapons, in what observers said, was a vain attempt to save the 44 Fijians.

According to reports, the 44 Fijians gave up their firearms without a fight and as a result were held hostage by the Syrian rebels during the beginning of the stand-off Thursday.

Catapang said there is no section nor clause in the terms of reference (UN deployment of peacekeepers) authorizing troops contributing countries to authorize the surrender of their firearms in event of harassment or attack.

"It's not our fault that the Fijian peacekeepers were captured and held hostage, what I told the UNDOF commander was that he should save the Philippine contingent (in Positions 68 and 69) so that we can help the Fijians," the AFP chief stressed.

Besides, Catapang said there is no assurance that the Syrian rebels will not capture the Filipino force once they surrendered their weapons.

"And if that happens, the UNDOF commander will have a bigger problem in his hands," the AFP chief stated.

Filipino peacekeepers in the Golan Heights are armed with M-4 automatic rifles, M-60 machine-guns, K-3 squad automatic weapons, and .45 caliber pistols.

Catapang also said that surrendering of weapons, even if it is a ceremonial one as being proposed by the Al Nusra Front, is frowned upon by the AFP as it is a symbol of a Filipino soldier's martial honor.

Filipino troops attached to the UNDOF were placed at 331 officers and enlisted personnel.

Catapang added that this action of the Philippine side did not contradict the UNDOF orders as troops contributing countries have leeway to countermand orders when it affects their national interest like continued security and safety of their military personnel. (PNA)

LGI/PFN

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