BY ROGER M. BALANZA
Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte has slammed an Indian general commanding a United Nations peacekeeping force in Golan Heights for calling the Filipino soldiers serving under his command as “cowards.”
Duterte said Lt. Gen. Iqbal Singha, commander of the UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF), deserves a shot to the head for his disparaging remarks against the Filipino troopers.
The Pinoy soldiers refused to surrender their arms and battled it out with al-Qaeda linked militants that besieged their base in Golan Heights.
They would later escape from Position 68, their base. But Singha said the Filipino troopers violated orders to stay put, which would have led them to suffer the fate of Fijian peacekeeping troopers who were held hostage when they surrendered their firearms to the attacking Syrian rebels.
Singha said the Filipino soldiers committed an act of cowardice by deserting their post and disobeying orders.
Duterte defended the Filipino soldiers as the most trained soldiers in the world considering the decades-long insurgency problem the Philippines the soldiers had been facing.
If you see that general, shoot him in the head, he said.
Duterte said Filipino troopers in the first place should not be fighting in the Israel-Syrian war.
The UN has sent peacekeeping forces, including Filipino soldiers, to the Golan Heights.
If they want to cut each other’s throat let them. Why should our soldiers commit suicide in another country? Duterte said.
Duterte also advised the Filipino soldiers serving in the United Nations not to play hero for the benefit of other nations. He said the Filipino soldiers are “not obliged to kill for any country except your own.”
Philippine Armed Forces Chief Gen. Gregorio Pio Catapang described as “the greatest escape” the decision of the Philippine troops to leave their base on August 28, which was besieged by Syrian rebels.
Is standing your ground and never surrendering your firearms cowardice?, said Catapang at a press conference after the Singha verbal assault on the Filipino troopers.
The 40 Filipino peacekeepers refused to surrender and battled it out with the Syrian rebels for seven hours before making the escape from Position 68.
The Syrian rebels a day before seized 45 Fijian peacekeepers from Position 27 after taking their weapons and then besieged the Filipinos’ Position 68.
The rebels demanded that the Filipinos hand over their weapons but the peacekeepers refused, triggering a standoff.
It appeared that Singha wanted the Filipinos to give in to the rebels’ demand to buy time for negotiations for the release of the Fijians.
“Seven hours of fighting the enemy, is that cowardice? I don’t think so,” Catapang said.
The Filipino peacekeepers had defied Singha’s order for them to surrender their weapons. Instead, they fought the rebels from the al-Qaida-linked Nusra Front.
The fire fight began when the rebels attacked Position 68.
The rebels brought in reinforcements then rested, giving the Filipinos a chance to slip out of their encampment after midnight.
They would walk more than 2 kilometers to safety on the Israeli side of the ceasefire line between Israel and Syria.
In a report published in India Today newspaper, Singha said the Filipino peacekeepers “broke the chain of command and UN orders.”
“The nonprofessional actions of the Filipino troops have endangered the lives of Fijian soldiers. They have defied orders at a time when we had negotiated a ceasefire with the rebels to ensure that all troops in the conflict area could exit,” Singha said.
“The higher echelon as well as the Indian Army agrees with me that the decision was correct. It is an act of cowardice to desert posts, especially when a delicate ceasefire was in place,” he added.
Malacañang said the Filipino peacekeepers made the right decision.
The Filipino peacekeepers were on the Golan Heights to help keep the ceasefire between Israel and Syria.
But the attack of the Syrian rebels changed the rules of engagement. While the Filipino peacekeepers were not supposed to take offensive action, they needed to defend themselves when they were attacked.
Muntinlupa City Rep. Rodolfo Biazon took exception to Singha’s accusations, which he said should compel the Philippines to “immediately withdraw” all Filipino troops from the Golan Heights.
Biazon, chair of the House defense and security committee, said Singha ordered the Fijian peacekeepers to surrender their weapons to the Syrian rebels, leading to their being taken hostage.
“Our troops fought gallantly, even though they were running low on ammunition and there was the danger of their position being overrun by the attackers,” said Biazon, a former AFP chief of staff.