MANILA, Philippines --- The Philippine government welcomed yesterday the release of all 21 Filipino peacekeepers assigned to the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) in the Golan Heights who were detained on March 6 in Jamla, Syria, by armed elements of the Syrian opposition.
At the same time, the Philippines expressed deep appreciation to the Jordanian government and military officials on the successful safe passing over to the Jordanian side of all the peacekeepers and “to all those who have exerted and contributed to the collective efforts to effect their safe release.”
“The Philippines stresses the impartiality of UNDOF and its mandate to monitor the Disengagement of Forces Agreement between Israel and Syria and strongly reiterates its call on all parties to respect the freedom of movement and safety and security of peacekeepers in UNDOF,” the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said in a statement issued yesterday.
“Indeed, this respect of freedom of movement and safety and security of peacekeepers must be extended to all United Nations peacekeeping missions consistent with commitments and obligations under international law,” it added.
Malacañang said President Benigno S. Aquino III is “very happy” with the safe release of the Filipino UN peacekeepers by the Syrian rebels.
Deputy Presidential Spokeswoman Abigail Valte said the President will also continue to review the policy of sending men to conflict-torn countries.
“The President was updated about the release of the 21 Filipino UN peacekeepers and he was very happy to receive the news,” Valte said over government media.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon also welcomed the release of the Filipino peacekeepers.
Ban “appreciates the efforts of all concerned to secure their safe release,” said a statement issued by the Secretary-General’s spokesperson on Sunday.
The Secretary-General further emphasized to all parties the impartiality of UN peacekeepers.
“UNDOF is on the ground to monitor the Disengagement of Forces Agreement between Israel and Syria,” the statement said. “The Secretary-General calls on all parties to respect UNDOF’s freedom of movement and the safety and security of its personnel. He also calls on them to respect and uphold the protection of civilians.”
On whether the Filipino soldiers will return to the Philippines or complete their tour of duty, Valte said the government is closely coordinating with the UN “as to what will happen next to them.”
President Aquino, meantime, is waiting for the results of review by the Armed Forces on future deployment of soldiers to peacekeeping missions abroad, according to Valte.
She said the government must strike “a delicate balance” between the need to uphold peace and security at home and the country’s commitment to the global community to help in peacekeeping efforts.
Last week, the President said he wants to know if the government can afford to deploy more peacekeepers abroad while the country has its own security needs. Aquino said the country’s population has doubled since 1986 and yet the number of military and police forces remain the same.
The government has deployed troops in Haiti, East Timor, Cambodia and Golan Heights.
Last Wednesday, armed elements of the Syrian opposition detained the Filipino peacekeepers of UNDOF which monitors the 1974 disengagement accord between Syria and Israel after their 1973 war.
The peacekeepers were detained less than a mile from the Golan Heights demilitarized zone and within the area that the UN patrols to monitor military activity there.
The UN earlier said a convoy tried to rescue the soldiers over the weekend but turned back because of Syrian government shelling in the area--the rebels themselves transported the prisoners to the Jordanian border on Saturday.
The Filipino soldiers were later turned over to the Jordanian Army, given checkups in a military hospital, then handed over to UN officials and the ambassador from the Philippines, reports said.
The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) also welcomed the release of the 21 Filipino UN peacekeepers seized by Syrian rebels in the Golan Heights.
Military spokesman, Col. Arnulfo Marcelo Burgos, Jr., said: “The release of the 21 Filipino peacekeepers is a big sigh of relief for their families and we in the Armed Forces of the Philippines are very thankful for this outcome.”
Army public affairs officer Lt. Col. Randolph Cabangbang, meanwhile, identified the 21 UN peacekeepers as:
Major Dominador B. Valerio, Major Michael M. Mangahas, Captain Xy-Rus M. Meneses, Technical Sergeant Elmer A. Esteban, Staff Sergeant Jerry M. Lasquite, Staff Sergeant Armado P. Queza, Staff Sergeant Lambert G. Banganan, Staff Sergeant Felicito S. Baccay, Staff Sergeant Rhae K. Bolhayon, Sergeant Freddie C. Ramos, Sergeant Alan L. Gabunales, Sergeant Dionisio P. Manuel, Sergeant Aristotel C. Selosa, Corporal Marcelo S. Tagle, Corporal Jovin B. Baccay, Corporal Elson A. Tunac, Corporal Vivencio E. Raton, Corporal Ariel M. Evangelista, Corporal John Paul O. Yabut, Corporal Jheraldine P. Sario, and Corporal Antonio S. Cortez III. (With reports from Genalyn D. Kabiling and Elena L. Aben)