Filipino soldiers' 'greatest escape' in Golan
MANILA, Philippines – The crisis is over for Filipinos in the Golan Heights.
The standoff between the peacekeepers and Al-Nusra Front ended midnight Sunday – 5 am Manila time.
What went on behind what the military chief says is the peacekeepers 'greatest escape'?
Carmela Fonbuena files this video report.
GENERAL GREGORIO CATAPANG, PHILIPPINE MILITARY CHIEF: Kung gagawa ng pelikula sino ang gusto mong artista na gaganap sayo in the person of Captain Ramones? (If they were to make a movie about the standoff, which actor would you want to play you, Captain Ramones?)
NILO RAMONES, PHILIPPINE PLATOON LEADER: Si Coco Martin, sir. (Coco Martin, Sir.)
Now they can laugh. Philippine military chief General Gregorio Catapang Jr jokes around in a video call with troops in Golan Heights.
Just a day before, the Filipinos escaped from Al Qaeda allied Syrian rebels The crisis started Thursday when the rebels stormed the UN camp in the Golan heights and demanded that they surrender their arms. The Filipinos refused and the standoff began.
COL ROBERTO ANCAN, AFP PEACEKEEPING OPERATIONS CENTER: They went there to our position and told us to give up our firearms.
It escalated to a 7-hour firefight on Saturday.
COL RAMAN ZAGALA, MILITARY SPOKESPERSON: There is firefight but I’d like to assure everyone that the troops are safe.
Rebels rammed the gate and fired mortars and machine guns. But the UN post is well fortified and the Filipinos were well-armed. They escaped midnight, Sunday. Under the cover of darkness, they walked 2 hours to a secure location.
GENERAL GREGORIO CATAPANG, PHILIPPINE MILITARY CHIEF: Maybe you can call it the greatest escape. We escaped from our the Syrian rebels in the middle of the night while they were sleeping.
All Filipino peacekeepers in Golan are safe but the situation remains tense. The Syrian rebels are still holding 44 Fijian peacekeepers.
The Philippine military reveals later that the Filipino troops defied the orders of UNDOF commander General Iqbal Singha... who wanted the Filipinos to surrender their firearms to the rebels.
GENERAL GREGORIO CATAPANG, PHILIPPINE MILITARY CHIEF: The UNDOF Commander wanted to save the Fiiians at the expense of the Philippines. Hindi natin kasalanan nahostage. (It was not our fault that they were taken hostage). hat i was telling the UNDOF commander is save first the Philippines and then we will help the Fijians later.
The generals stressed there was no guarantee the rebels will not take them hostage like the Fijians.
GENERAL GREGORIO CATAPANG, PHILIPPINE MILITARY CHIEF: It still has to be sorted out if we were right or if we are wrong. But I think we are right because we are all safe now.
Carmela Fonbuena Rappler Manila – Rappler.com