Palace: Gilas, PH peacekeepers deserve heroes' welcome

MANILA, Philippines – Malacañang said on Saturday, September 6, that the national basketball team, Gilas Pilipinas, deserves a "heroes' welcome" for their gallant bid in the 2014 FIBA World Cup in Spain.

Presidential Spokesperson Edwin Lacierda said in a statement that in the same vein, the Filipino peacekeepers in the Golan Heights also deserve the same rousing homecoming welcome when they end their tour of duty in October.

"We went up against some of the world’s best national teams and the Gilas team gave their damndest best! Their gallant fighting spirit, never say die attitude and playing from the heart deserves a heroes' welcome," Lacierda said.

In an interview with state-run Radyo ng Bayan, Lacierda said Filipinos should prepare to welcome back Gilas after their "heroic defeat" of Senegal – its lone win in Spain.

Gilas Pilipinas ended their 2014 FIBA World Cup journey on Thursday, September 4, with a hard-fought victory against team Senegal. Thursday’s game was the team’s first win in the qualifiers in Seville, Spain. Gilas was defeated by Croatia, Argentina, Puerto Rico, and Greece in their first 4 games.

“We agree with what Coach Chot Reyes said – that Filipinos are excellent in basketball. Gilas Pilipinas got a hard-fought win,” Lacierda added.

He added: “I’m sure Filipinos will be celebrating when they arrive. It’s going to be a very warm congratulations to the team, to Coach Chot Reyes, to the coaching staff and all the players.”

The win was the country’s first at the FIBA World Cup since July 12, 1974 when they defeated Central African Republic 87-86.

“They put up a good fight. They showed that Filipinos fight with their hearts whether in sports or in any other field. We showed the strength of our hearts,” Lacierda added.

It is not yet confirmed if the team will have a courtesy call with President Benigno Aquino III when they arrive, as the President might not be in the country at the time, the Palace official said.

Aquino will embark on a trip to Europe on September 13. 

In his statement, Lacierda said the Philippine peacekeepers in the Golan Heights also demonstrated "steeled discipline" when they defied orders and refused to surrender to Syrian rebels, and thus deserve a heroes' welcome as well. 

'Heroic' PH peacekeepers

"The Filipino peacekeepers who kept the Syrian rebels at bay for 7 hours, their determined resolve not to surrender despite being put in harm's way show the true grit and steeled discipline of the Filipino soldiers. They deserve a heroes' welcome as well," he said. 

On August 28, Syrian rebels took the Fijian peacekeepers hostage and, along with their hostages, later surrounded encampments of Filipino peacekeepers in the Golan Heights.

The rebels demanded the Filipino peacekeepers to surrender their firearms, but they refused, triggering a standoff followed by a 7-hour heavy firefight on Saturday, August 30.

On August 31, while the rebels were asleep, about 40 Filipino soldiers managed to escape and set up in another encampment, the military said in a press conference the following morning. (READ: Inside Filipino troops' 'Greatest Escape' in Golan)

The escape was executed without the approval of United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF), whose commander, Lieutenant General Iqbal Singha, has accused the Philippine troops of “cowardice” – an allegation dismissed by the Philippine government which is standing by its soldiers. 

The Philippines has said it is "taking steps" to address its peacekeeping concerns, through diplomatic channels in the UN. It has also said that it will focus now on helping secure the freedom of the 45 Fijian peacekeepers held by Syrian rebels. –