Kin of Pinoy UN peacekeepers keep faith on military’s capability

THE relatives of Filipino peacekeepers in Golan Heights said Tuesday that they never doubted the capability of the troops deployed in the Syrian-controlled territory since they underwent proper and intense training under the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).

Mila Escarcha and Grace Corpuz, wives of two of the soldiers who figured in a 72-hour standoff with Syrian rebels, said they felt anxious having thought that the anti-government armed elements might harm or kill their husbands but they did not lose faith that they would be able to overcome the chaos and "they will go home alive."

"Walang katumbas na gaano mang kadaming dollar ang takot at pangamba na naramdaman ko nung nalaman ko from the news ang nangyayare doon (Golan Heights) pero naniniwala kami na maganda ang pinagdaanan nilang training at magagamit nila iyon para malampasan 'yung malaking banta ng panganib sa kanilang buhay," Escarcha said.

Escarcha said that before seeing in the news that the Filipino peacekeepers were locked in a standoff with Syrian rebels, she and her husband were able to talk but he did not drop a hint that they were in an uncertain situation.

"Pareho kami (Escarcha) ayaw na siguro nila (their husbands) na magalala pa kami sakanila," Corpuz said.

The wives said all they did, together with the rest of their family, was to cry and to pray that they would still see their husbands alive.

Corpuz said that although they are already used to her husband being assigned in conflict-torn area such as his deployment in Mindanao, this particular incident caused them more anxiety.

They said they felt relieved, happy and proud when they learned about the Filipino soldiers' "greatest escape."

"Nabunutan kami ng tinik nung malaman nga naming sa balita na matagumpay sila na nakaalis sa lugar ng panganib," Escarcha said.

Escarcha said they have already talked with her husband and he told her that they are doing fine and that they are already out of the danger zone.

Asked if they would allow their husbands to be deployed in similar conflict areas, Escarcha and Corpuz said that they would, as their spouses' have sworn to the country and to its people.

The tension escalated after Syrian rebels entered the UN-patrolled buffer zone between Syria and Israel last August 28, capturing 44 Fijian peacekeepers and demanding the surrender of Filipino peacekeepers.

Surrounded by the Syrian rebels, the Filipino peacekeepers who were part of the United Nation Disengagement Observer Force (Undof) refused to surrender their arms and continued to defend their position, leading to a four-day standoff.

The first group of 35 Filipino peacekeepers stationed at Position 69 was rescued by Irish and Filipino forces.

The second group of 40 Filipino peacekeepers held their ground at Position 68 and kept about 100 Syrian rebels at bay.

After seven hours under heavy fire, the Filipino peacekeepers successfully planned and implemented their escape on August 30 under the cover of darkness.

They walked for nearly two hours to meet up with other UN forces who escorted them to safety. They are now safely repositioned to Camp Ziuoani behind UN lines.

Despite the incident, the Filipino peacekeepers will stay until October 2014, in fulfillment of the country's commitment to international security.

Earlier, the AFP said they will provide a "hero's welcome" to the Filipino UN peacekeepers who will return to the country in October.

AFP Chief of Staff General Gragorio Catapang said the 346 Filipino contingents will return in the country in October.

"Marapat lang na salubungin at mabigyan ng mataas na pagkilala ang mga magigiting na sundalo na namagitan at hindi sumuko sa kabila ng mga banta ng Syrian rebels," he said.

Catapang said the Filipino peacekeepers displayed an exceptional courage and gallantry during their "great escape" amid the risk of being possibly abducted, or worst, be killed by the anti-government armed elements.

In the Senate, Senator Paolo Benigno Aquino IV dubbed the Filipino peacekeepers as the new action heroes of the world for their bravery and resolve during a standoff with Syrian rebels in Golan Heights.

"Our soldiers' brave front only proves that Filipinos will not back down from any challenge that we face," said Aquino who filed Senate Resolution 877 to commend and to recognize the Filipino peacekeepers' resolve in carrying out their mission.

"Their bravery and courage reflect the professionalism and competence of the Armed Forces of the Philippines," Aquino said.

The Filipino peacekeepers form an integral part of the Undof mission that monitors a ceasefire agreement between Syria and Israel.

Aside from the Philippines, other countries contributing troops to the Undof Mission include Fiji, Ireland, Nepal and the Netherlands.

"We continue to support the speedy resolution of the Syrian conflict to stop the violence that has left thousands of families devastated by war," Aquino said. (With Camille P. Balagtas/Sunnex)


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