PH’s first woman peacekeeping commander off to Haiti

Captain Luzviminda Camacho was the first woman to command a PH Navy ship. Now she is the first female commander of the United Nations contingent to Haiti.

ANOTHER FIRST: Captain Luzviminda Camacho is the first woman to head a Philippines peacekeeping contingent. Photo by Carmela Fonbuena/Rappler

MANILA, Philippines – She made history as the first woman to command a ship of the Philippine Navy. But that’s not enough for her who keeps pushing to break the glass ceiling for women in the miltary.

Captain Luzviminda Camacho goes bolder as the first female commander of peacekeepers sent by the Philippines to Haiti. She leads the country’s 17th contingent to the Caribean country once torn by conflict.

Camacho and 156 others from the Navy bid their families goodbye on Tuesday afternoon, October 29, and boarded a plane bound for Haiti, an impoverished country that spiraled into chaos in 2004 because of a revolt launched by street gangs there.

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) has been sending a contingent there since 2005. 

It’s peacetime in Haiti and it is the peaceakeepers’ job is to help make sure it stays that way.

“It’s a bit peaceful there now…. Right now, our task is to help in the peacebuiding. We will be providing VIP security administration and logistics for the United Nations stabilization mission in Haiti,” Camacho told reporters on the sidelines of the send-off ceremony at the Villamor Airbase in Pasay City. 

Camacho doesn’t make promises that she’ll be a better commander because she’s a woman. “It’s the same. We have gender awareness development, equal opportunity for men and women. This is both a big opportunity for me and a big challenge for me,” she said in a mix of English and Filipino.

What Camacho offers is her commitment to the all-Navy contingent. “I will promise that they will be in good hands. We will be ambassador of peace,” she said. 

Camacho’s responsibility

Navy chief Vice Admiral Jose Luis Alano said Camacho was chosen not because she’s a woman but because she fulfills the “number one requirement” of “having command at sea.” She had her skills in leadership and management going for her as well, he added.

SEND-OFF CEREMONY: Navy Chief Vice Admiral Jose Luis Alano and Captain Luzviminda Camacho

After nearly 3 years of commanding 4 Navy ships, Camacho was designated in December 2012 as the chief of staff of the naval base Cavite, the Naval Base Heracleo Alano in Sangley Point.

“She is quite capable as having been a captain of several ships of the Navy. She has already been tested as an officer who would be able to withstand the different crises or events for her to be able to respond to anything that will be required to be done,” said Alano.

Camacho will be responsibie for maintaining the good reputation of Filipino peacekeepers. Alano fondly recalled his discussion with the deputy commander of the multi-nation contingent when he visited Haiti last April.

“He said they look highly at our personnel, not only in the area of professionalism and discipline but their ability to perform in a multi-national organization. Their ability to communicate and interact is one of the key factors. They always look forward to the Filipino contingent there,” said Alano.

Lessons, dangers

The AFP said the Filipino soldiers can learn a lot from their experiences abroad. “Take this opportunity to learn new things that you can share to your comrades when you come back,” Alano said in his speech during the send-off ceremony.

“It will be exciting. It’s never boring. You will learn new experiences,” he added.

In spite of the dangers that come with the job, soldiers continue to fight for slots in the peacekeeping missions abroad. 

Filipino peacekeepers in Golan Heights, for example, were abducted in May by rebels from neighboring Syria while they were performing their duties in the ceasefire zone between Israel and Syria. (READ: Filipino peacekeepers released)

The incident did not stop soldiers in Manila from wanting to join the contingent that will replace the team there. After making arrangements with the UN to provide additional security to Filipino peacekeepers, the government committed to continue sending peacekeepers in Golan Heights. A replacement team of about 300 is set to leave in December.

“We could call it the positive attitude of the soldiers in spite of the risk. They say their lives as soldiers are risky enough. Risks are a part of their lives. It’s nothing new for them so to speak. A lot of them continue to volunteer We do not have any problems practically filling up those positions,” said Defense Undersecretary Raymund Quilop.

Single mom

Camacho, a single mom, left her 20-year-old son Praise who is about to graduate at the Maritime Academy of Asia and Pacific, a school for future seafarers.

PROUD SON: Captain Luzviminda Camacho and son Praise. Photo by Carmela Fonbuena/Rappler

“I’m very proud of her,” a beaming Praise told reporters. Mother and son are used to living apart most of the time. Last Christmas, it was Praise who was on board a ship for his schooling. They’ve agreed how they will communicate on Facebook and Skype, he said.

But if it’s not too much to ask, Praise is praying that his mother would be home for his graduation in June. Peacekeeping missions run for only 6 months, but there are ocassions the peacekeepers are forced to extend. –

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