NUEVA ECIJA, Philippines – When Philippine military chief General Gregorio Catapang Jr handed over a new M4 rifle to Army Private Kevin Amarille on Thursday, September 4, it was as if he was repeating his orders to Philippine troops in the Golan Heights over the weekend: Never surrender your firearm to the enemy.
“Siguraduhin niya na tratuhin itong baril na ito na kung binata pa siya, girlfriend niya. O kung may asawa na siya, asawa niya. At huwag niya ipamimigay sa kalaban,” Catapang said in his speech at the turn-over ceremony of 829 new rifles at the 7th Infantry Division in Fort Magsaysay in Nueva Ecija.
(He should make sure that he will treat his firearm like his girlfriend if he is single, or like his wife if he is married. He should never give it to the enemy.)
The unauthorized escape of 40 troops from Syrian rebels in Golan on Sunday, September 1, is now the subject of controversy after the United Nations denied the complaint of Filipino peacekeepers that UN Disengagement Observer Force commander Lieutenant General Iqbal Singha had ordered them to surrender their weapons to the rebels.
UN Under Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Hervé Ladsous said the order was only “to leave the weapons quiet so as to give some space but never to hand over weapons.”
Catapang said the orders of Singha were clear. “Based on our report, ganoon talaga. Hindi naman kami gagawa ng ganoong pasiya kung hindi naman po talaga inorder (It was really like that. We wouldn’t have made that decision if that wasn’t the order),” he said.
Nevertheless, the military will create a “study group” to analyze its actions during the crisis. An after-battle report is normal procedure in the military to lay down the lessons learned in every operation.
“I-a-analyze pa ‘yan kasi dumadaan yan sa proseso. Sasabihin na ito ang dapat, ito ang mali. May study group na i-ki-create tayo (That will be analyzed. It has to go through a process to determine what should be done and what is wrong. We will create a study group),” said Catapang.
Singha’s orders were supposedly relayed verbally to Philippine Battalion Commander Colonel Ezra Enriquez.
“We were asking him (Singha) to put it in black and white. Noong sinabi na i-surrender ang firearms, nanghingi ng guidance ang ating mga sundalo. Sabi ko, kung ganoon ang gusto niya, he must put it in black and white because he is ordering us something that we feel is not authorized.”
(We were asking Singha to put it in black and white. When he said surrender the firearms, our soldiers asked for guidance. I said, If that’s what he wants he must put it in black and white because he is ordering us something that we feel is not authorized.)
‘No blame game’
The military has been discouraged from further talking about the issue. “Ang (Our) guidance namin ngayon (now is) we will not anymore speak to rebut. We will just submit the report. It is up to the higher headquarters to decide. We don’t want this to be a blame game,” Catapang told reporters in Nueva Ecija.
Inspite of the controversy, the important thing, Catapang said, is that the troops are safe.
“Blame game na ngayon. But ayaw naman natin magsisihan tayo kasi tapos na ito e. We will just follow orders kung ano man ang sasabihin sa atin ng mahal na Pangulo (It is now a blame game. But we don’t want to do that because it’s over. We will just follow orders; whatever our dear President tells us to do).”
The military has submitted to Malacañang a blow by blow account of what happened in the Golan Heights. The Department of Foreign Affairs was furnished a copy.
Catapang said the controversy should not affect the country’s relationship with the UN, since authorities are only questioning one person’s decision, referring to Singha.
The Philippine military is now volunteering to put up the United Nations Standby Agreement, he said.
“Nandito tropa natin continuously training. Kung biglang kailangan at okay naman ang deployment, we can provide the UN the necessary forces (Our troops are here continuously training. If they suddenly need us, and the deployment is okay, we can provide the necessary forces),” he said. – Rappler.com
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