PH welcomes release of peacekeepers
(2nd UPDATE) The Filipino peacekeepers are freed by Syrian rebels and taken to Jordan to get medical attention and be debriefed

MANILA, Philippines (2nd UPDATE) – The Philippine government on Sunday, March 10, welcomed the release of its 21 UN peacekeepers after they were freed by Syrian rebels and crossed to Jordan, where officials waited to receive them.

President Benigno Aquino III “was very happy to receive the news,” deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said in a radio interview.

“The president was very concerned and this is very good news indeed,” she added.

The troops, members of a UN force monitoring a 1974 ceasefire between Syria and Israel, were abducted on Wednesday, March 6.

“The Philippine government and its people express deep appreciation to the Jordanian government and military officials on the successful safe passing over to the Jordanian side of all our 21 Filipino peacekeepers,” a statement from the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said.

In Jordan

Military spokesman Col Arnulfo Burgos said the peacekeepers’ battalion commander and one of the freed officers had personally confirmed by telephone that they were in Jordanian custody.

“The 21 peacekeepers are in the custody of the Jordanian border patrol headquarters. The Philippine ambassador is coordinating directly with Jordanian authorities and is ready to receive the 21 peacekeepers,” he told reporters.

He said the group’s commander had already met with the freed men, adding that they would be staying in a hotel in Amman for two days before being transferred back to the UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF).

The DFA also stressed the impartiality of the UNDOF the men were serving with and called on all parties to respect their freedom of movement and safety.

Medical care, debriefing

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) breathed a huge “sigh of relief” after the release of the 21 Filipino UN peacekeepers held hostage by Syrian rebels in Golan Heights for 4 days. 

Burgos said the peacekeepers would be given medical attention. They would also undergo post-traumatic stress debriefing and security debriefing. 

“We have already informed their families of this good news,” Burgos said. “We will continue to pray for the more than 600 Filipino UN peacekeepers and military observers deployed in 9 mission areas all over the world promoting and maintaining peace and stability in conflict areas.”

The AFP thanked officials and agencies that paved the way for the safe release of the Filipino soldiers.

“The Philippine army thanks everyone who prayed for the safety of our soldiers. We also thank those who helped ease the fears and worries of their loved ones. We cannot express how happy we are because at the time of great need, the whole county helped us,” said Col Randolph Cabangbang.

The 21 peacekeepers are:

  • Major Dominador Valerio
  • Maj Michael Mangahas
  • Capt Xy-Rus Meneses
  • Staff Sgt Jerry Lasquite
  • Sgt Freddie Ramos
  • SSg Armado Queza
  • Corporal Marcelo Tagle
  • Cpl Jovin Baccay
  • Cpl Elson Tunac
  • SSg Lambert Banganan
  • Sgt Alan Gabunales
  • Cpl Vivencio Raton
  • Cpl Ariel Evangelista
  • Technical Sgt Elmer Esteban
  • SSg Felicito Baccay
  • Sgt Dionisio Manuel
  • SSg Rhae Bolhayon
  • Cpl John Paul Yabut
  • Cpl Jheraldine Sario
  • Sgt Aristotel Selosa
  • Cpl Antonio Cortez III

The hostages were part of a 300-member Philippine Army force deployed since November 2012. – with reports from Agence France-Presse/

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