MANILA Mabuhay) – Armed Forces of the Philippines chief of staff Gen. Gregorio Pio Catapang Jr. said not one soldier was hurt when they pulled off “the greatest escape” in Golan Heights to flee the Syrian rebels.
Catapang revealed the soldiers, who were surrounded in position 69, fled around Sunday midnight (Syrian time) towards a safe camp, but not without passing through land mines.
The daring feat started on Wednesday when the Syrian rebels, which has links to the al Qaeda network, captured peacekeepers from Fiji.
The rebels used two of the captured soldiers to demand the surrender of the Filipinos’ firearms.
“One of the soldiers called me up to ask for guidance. I told them not to surrender their firearms because they might be forced to go under court martial since there was no threat [initially]. Those are ours,” he said.
When the soldier told him that the rebels brought with them the abducted Fijians, Catapang stood his ground and said “it’s not our fault that they were captured. We will help them in some other way. We would look like a laughingstock to the entire world if we surrender our firearms.”
He said even the commander of the UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF), which employs the Filipino troops, ordered that they surrender their firearms once the rebels attack.
“I countermanded the order of the UNDOF commander who said that if we are attacked, we should surrender and raise the white flag,” he said.
He dismissed the commander’s order saying, “We will not do that. We won’t be put to shame.”
He said he knew the rules of engagement there since he was the one who was directed to set-up the Filipino delegation back in 2009.
Despite the incident, Catapang said the soldiers will continue their tour of duty until their planned pullout in October.
He defended the pullout even if some quarters are claiming that it was still a cowardly act.
“Our work there was for peacekeeping. Like in boxing, we were called as referees between Israel and Syria. Both understood that they can’t fight in the areas of separation. But another boxer went inside the ring,” he said.
He said President Aquino made the right decision to pull out the soldiers.
“When the rebels came into the picture, the equation changed.”
He said the Philippines will continue sending troops to other areas, just not in Golan Heights.
Several Filipinos in the strife-torn Golan Heights have been abducted in the past, forcing Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario to recommend to President Benigno Aquino III the withdrawal of the troops.
Del Rosario later dropped his recommendation when the United Nations, where the peacekeepers are employed, promised that they will be given ample security.
A month ago, however, Aquino decided to recall back the troops.
The country will also be pulling out troops in Liberia, due to the threat of the Ebola virus. (MNS)