Cowards? ‘PH peacekeepers served with honor’

Ayee Macaraig
'In the face of grave danger, Filipino peacekeepers have bravely helped to safeguard world peace,' Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario tells the UN

'BRAVE, PROFESSIONAL.' Philippine Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario praises Filipino peacekeepers as he addresses the UN after the controversy involving Filipino blue helmets in the Golan Heights. File photo by Noel Celis/AFP

UNITED NATIONS – After the controversy involving an order to surrender weapons to Al-Qaeda linked rebels, the Philippines called on the United Nations to immediately address the safety of peacekeepers.

Speaking before the annual UN General Assembly debate in New York, the Philippines’ top diplomat emphasized the contributions of Filipino peacekeepers, especially in dangerous missions like the Golan Heights.  

“In the face of grave danger, Filipino peacekeepers have bravely helped to safeguard world peace. They have served with honor, distinction and professionalism in implementing peacekeeping mandates,” Del Rosario said on Monday, September 29. 

Del Rosario’s statement comes after the UN, through its head of peacekeeping operations Hervé Ladsous, denied the claim of Filipino peacekeepers that their Indian commander ordered them to surrender weapons to the Al-Nusra Front. The order was supposedly given to secure the release of kidnapped Fijian peacekeepers in a standoff in late August.

The issue has since become a sensitive topic after top Filipino military officials openly said they allowed their troops to defy the order, and instead hatch an escape plan. UN commander Iqbal Singh Singha shot back that the escape was “an act of cowardice.”

In his speech, Del Rosario reiterated the Philippines’ call for a review of the rules of engagement in peacekeeping, focusing on the safety of peacekeepers in hostage and siege situations. He also proposed a bigger budget for peacekeeping missions. 

“We are deeply concerned with the continuing and emerging dangers faced by all UN peacekeepers and urge the United Nations and all fellow Member States to ensure that these dangers are addressed comprehensively,” he said.

“We believe that outstanding operational and tactical issues relating to United Nations peacekeeping must be resolved at the highest levels as soon as possible.” 

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon announced last week that he ordered a review of peace operations for the first time in 15 years. Ban said he will appoint a high-level panel to conduct the comprehensive review. 

Del Rosario thanked countries that helped ensure the safety of the Filipino peacekeepers during the standoff at the mission formally known as the UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF). He did not specify the countries but Ireland and Syria were among those that provided assistance. 

“Our collective action has highlighted the importance that the international community continues to accord to UN peacekeeping,” Del Rosario said. 

Despite the incident, the Secretary said UN peacekeeping missions remain crucial for international peace and security.

“The Philippines, through its continuous participation in peacekeeping missions, has shown its steadfast commitment to contribute to this worthy cause… to uphold multilateral peacekeeping, collective security and the rule of law,” Del Rosario said.

The Philippines ranks 33rd among countries contributing police and military personnel to the UN. As of August, 672 UN peacekeepers were from the Philippines. Manila recently deployed a new batch of peacekeepers to Haiti, even after the Golan controversy.

'SIGNIFICANT CONTRIBUTIONS.' Philippine Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario meets with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon. The UN says among the topics they discussed was the 'significance of the Philippines’ contributions to UN peacekeeping operations in the Golan Heights and Liberia.' UN Photo/Evan Schneider

Talks on role vs ISIS

The Philippines also vowed to participate in international efforts to fight terrorism, a key topic in high-level discussions at the UN this month.  

Del Rosario denounced as a “scourge” the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), a brutal terror group notorious for beheading soldiers, journalists and aid workers, enslaving women and children, and persecuting Christians and other religious minorities.

“The Philippines condemns the war crimes and crimes against humanity being perpetrated by ISIS. We have supported Security Council Resolution 2178 on foreign terrorist fighters adopted on 24 September because we believe that resolute and immediate action is necessary to suppress this group.” 

He was referring to the resolution the Council adopted in a meeting US President Barack Obama led last week. The resolution compels UN member states to stop the entry and transit of foreign fighters, and pass domestic laws to prosecute them.

Del Rosario reiterated that Manila will “do its part” in the US-led campaign to “thwart ISIS and their false ideologies.” He met with US officials in New York to discuss what contributions the Philippines can give.

Del Rosario’s statements of condemnation echoed those of Holy See Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin. In his address in the same session, Parolin cited the position of Pope Francis that collective action from the UN, not a unilateral move of the US, is the best approach to fighting ISIS.

Citing the UN charter, Parolin said, “Military action carried out by one state in response to another state is possible only in the event of self-defense when under direct armed attack and only up until such time as the Security Council successfully takes the necessary steps to restore international peace and security.”

In a controversial move, the US began carrying out airstrikes on Syria last week without any authorization from the UN Security Council.

‘Elect a female UN head’

In renewing Philippine commitment to the UN, Del Rosario called for reforming the world body through “a better selection process” for the Secretary-General, the President of the General Assembly, and executive heads of the UN.

He also urged states to increase membership in the 15-member UN Security Council, and to review permanent members’ use of veto power.

While other UN member states have made similar appeals, the Philippines went further and called for a major change in the organization.

“For example, if we were to elect a woman to be the next Secretary General of the United Nations, this would be a powerful signal on gender equality and empowerment,” he said.

The Philippines is ranked the highest in gender equality in Asia, based on a World Economic Forum survey. – Rappler.com

Rappler multimedia reporter Ayee Macaraig is a 2014 fellow of the Dag Hammarskjöld Fund for Journalists. She is in New York to cover the UN General Assembly, foreign policy, diplomacy, and world events. 

 

 

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