Pullout of Pinoy troops from Golan Heights sought

Manila News Bureau Chief

MANILA – President Benigno Aquino III is evaluating the proposal to pull out Filipino peacekeepers deployed to the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) in the Golan Heights and in Liberia because of the volatile situation in these countries.

“The President has not made a decision yet,” said Deputy Presidential Spokesperson Abigail Valte said in a press briefing aired over state-run Radyo ng Bayan yesterday. “First, he wants to know the situation in these places and does the Filipino peacekeepers have enough protection from risks? Once these questions are answered, the President will continue evaluating the proposal.”

“Normally, that is the process,” Valte added. “That is how the President assesses a situation or a proposal related to our peacekeepers deployed elsewhere.”

Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin earlier said Filipino peacekeepers in strife-torn Golan Heights and Liberia should be pulled out for not being properly supplied with protection equipment.

The seventh Philippine contingent in UNDOF has a total of 346 officers and enlisted personnel of which 14 are serving as staff while the rest are deployed in the southern part of the area of operations in the Golan Heights.

On the other hand, there are 148 UN Filipino peacekeepers in Liberia.

Currently, the Philippines contributes 676 military and police personnel to the UN peacekeeping operations including in Cote d’Ivoire, Hait, and India-Pakistan. This is part of the country’s commitment to help the UN maintain global stability.

Valte noted that the proposal for the immediate pull out of 342 Filipino peacekeepers stationed in the Golan Heights was already raised as early as last year following the abduction of several Philippine soldiers by Syrian rebels.

In March 2013, 21 Filipino peacekeepers were abducted for four days in the Golan Heights. Two months later, Syrian rebels again seized four Filipino peacekeepers of the UNDOF at an observation post in the Syrian-Israeli border.

In June 2013, a member of the 6th Philippine Contingent to the Golan Heights (6PCGH) suffered a leg injury when a wayward indirect fire landed near Camp Ziouni.

Camp Ziouni is the logistics base of the United Nations Field Operations Division (UNFOD) where different peacekeeping missions are based including the 6PCGH.

Meanwhile, Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone are suffering from Ebola virus outbreak, which has left more than 1,000 persons dead.

This prompted Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario to recommend to President Aquino the immediate pull out of the Filipino peacekeepers.

Del Rosario subsequently recommended the continued deployment of Filipino peacekeepers beyond August 11 for six months upon the recommendations of the assessment team dispatched to the UNDOF in the Golan Heights

This after Under-Secretary General for Peacekeeping Operations Herve Ladsous gave his assurance that the security and safety of the Filipino troops in Golan Heights will be upgraded./PN