May 12, 2013 (TSR) – The four Filipino UN Peacekeepers whom Yarmouk Brigades, a Syrian rebel militant faction, abducted are now released and had been “transferred to Israel” according to Al Jazeera who quoted sources.
Armed Forces of the Philippines spokesman Brig. Gen. Domingo Tutaan Jr. said Syrian rebels freed the peacekeepers a few minutes after 8 a.m. Syrian time (2 p.m. in the Philippines).
They were turned over to the custody of Lt. Col. Nolie Anquillano, commander of the Philippine contingent to the Golan Heights at 8:30 a.m. Syrian time (around 2:30 p.m. in Manila).
The freed Filipinos were then brought to Camp Ziuoani, the UNDOF base in the Golan Heights, for medical check-up and stress debriefing, the DFA said.
“They are fine, but as a matter of procedure they will have to undergo stress debriefing and a medical check-up,” Philippine Brigadier General Domingo Tutaan also said.
In a statement released Sunday, the Department of Foreign Affairs thanked the United Nations for its efforts.
“The Philippine government and its people express deep appreciation to the U.N. and to all those who have exerted and contributed to the collective efforts to effect the safe release of all four U.N. Disengagement Observer Force’s members,” it said.
“The Philippines…strongly reiterates its call on all parties to respect the freedom of movement and safety and security of peacekeepers in UNDOF,” the DFA said.
“Indeed, this respect of freedom of movement and safety and security of peacekeepers must be extended to all UN peacekeeping missions all over the world, consistent with commitments and obligations under international law.”
The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) on Friday said the negotiations for the release were progressing well, hoping it will not be like the last incident when the Syrian rebels refused to cooperate.
UN officials and diplomats said Sunday that Qatar played a key role in the negotiations.
“This time the rebels felt under pressure and took more convincing to free the soldiers,” said a UN diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity. “Qatar’s role was important.”
The UN did not immediately give any details of the negotiations or release.
The 917 troops from Austria, India, the Philippines, Morocco and Moldova carry only very light arms.
The United Nations sent extra armored personnel carriers, ambulances and other security equipment to the force after the March 6-9 abduction.
The Philippine government called on Tuesday for the “immediate and safe release” of the four Filipinos, who were also among the 343 Philippine military and police contingent serving in the Golan Heights for the last three years.
A video emerged online Thursday that purportedly showed the abducted peacekeepers, who appeared unhurt. A bearded man, believed to be with a group called the Yarmouk Martyrs Brigade, read out a statement saying the peacekeepers had been moved to another location for their own safety as fighting raged between Syrian government troops and rebels according to an AP report.
The statement did not specify where the peacekeepers were being held, nor conditions for their release.
The Yarmouk Brigades, part of the US-funded Syrian rebels, who claimed responsible for the recent abduction, also was behind the March 7 Israeli-facilitated abduction in Al-Jamla, to which The Philippine government realized that the incident “unmasked the real agenda of the Syrian rebels in their quest to seize power in Syria.”
Israel is leading the destabilization of Syria from the very beginning.
Western Samar Rep. Mel Senen Sarmiento, a senior Philippine administration lawmaker, said the US and the European Union should reconsider providing assistance to the Syrian rebels following their taking hostage the Filipino peacekeepers as this was “pure blackmail by the rebels against the UN”.
He asked why the rebels, who have been getting humanitarian and military assistance from the US and the EU, would hold hostage members of the neutral UN peacekeeping force sent to protect the Syrian people from the onslaught of the Syrian army.
The Philippines in serious consideration of pulling out of the Golan Heights due to safety reasons
President Benigno Aquino III is weighing the pull out its more than 300 peacekeeping forces from patrolling the UN patrolled demarcation line separating the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights and Syria.
Upon the approval of formal written recommendation by Foreign Minister Albert del Rosario, the Armed Forces of the Philippines will follow orders by the president.
Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario said Friday that he has recommended to the President the withdrawal, as soon as possible, of the nearly half the number of its United Nations peacekeepers worldwide, as the government believes the exposure of the country’s 342 peacekeepers “is beyond tolerable limits.”
“We don’t want to expose our people any further. We should be making a strong recommendation to the president and as soon as he says ‘go’ we will put out ASAP. We have served with dedication in that area but because of the changed circumstances…our recommendation would encompass an early pull out of our people there because we believe that exposure now is beyond tolerable limits,” Del Rosario told a forum hosted by the Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines (Focap).
The Philippine Government condemns in the strongest possible terms the abduction of four Filipino peacekeepers and calls the kidnapping, a “violation of international law”. Del Rosario said that the four peacekeepers were being held by Syrian rebels as human shields against attack by government forces.
“We are also aware of the fact that negotiations are also being undertaken with the group that has allegedly abducted these peacekeepers. We contend on the other hand that abduction of peacekeepers is a violation of international law and we give great importance to the safety and security of our peacekeepers,” del Rosario said.
The UNDOF, which has been monitoring a ceasefire between Israel and Syria since 1974, has about 1,000 peacekeepers and civilian staff from Austria, Croatia, India, Moldova, Morocco and the Philippines.
Golan Heights serves as a ceasefire zone between Syria and Israel, following the 1973 Arab-Israeli war, where over 1,000 UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) peacekeepers are stationed carrying light firearms.
The crisis level in Golan is 5; the highest level is 6.
Del Rosario said the Philippines will stay only if the alert level is 2.
The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) are on standby.
“This is a commitment of the Philippines to the United Nations, but if the recommendation is approved then we will follow. It is not the AFP that dictates the deployment,” Major Ramon Zagala, AFP Public Affairs Office chief, told the Philippine Inquirer.
After the abduction announcement of four observers by Syrian rebels, the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) confirmed on Wednesday that they too will be withdrawing from the observation post in al Jamiah zone in the Golan Heights, the same place where the Filipino soldiers were taken captive.
The United Nations on Wednesday pulled peacekeepers back from an observation post in the Golan Heights ceasefire zone where four Philippine troops were abducted by Syrian rebels, a spokesman said. The move came as countries which contribute troops to the U.N. Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) expressed renewed concern about security in the zone between Israel and war-stricken Syria.
Last time Croatia responded by removing its contingent of some 100 peacekeepers. Japan and Canada had similarly withdrawn their troops. Israel urged the remaining forces from Austria, India and the Philippines to maintain their contributions. Even after the most recent kidnapping, Australian officials say they are committed to remaining in UNDOF – for now:
Austria’s Defense Minister Gerald Klug, who is on tour of the Middle East including visiting the country’s 377-strong Golan contingent, told the Kurier daily that the risks were “controllable”. “We have improved protection for the soldiers: better equipment for everyone and additional armored vehicles. The situation is tense. I will not sugarcoat it,” he was quoted as saying.
“An exit strategy is part of every military mission. We can respond at any time. At the moment I do not see a need for that,” he added. Austria will “do our share as long as it’s possible. But I’ll say clearly: not at any price. Our soldiers’ security has the highest priority,” the minister said.
Del Rosario said he has submitted the recommendation according to Philstar.
President Benigno Aquino III will have the final say in the matter.
Awaiting the official written recommendations from his chief diplomat Albert F. Del Rosario, the Philippine president will act on it immediately once he gets it since the safety of the Filipinos is the priority, which Malacañang Palace said on Saturday.
It is not clear when the decision will be made.
Briefing: The Philippines, UN Peacekeeping Operations and Golan Heights
There are currently 15 peacekeeping operations and one special political mission – the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) – led by the Department of Peacekeeping Operations. There are 730 Filipino peacekeepers participating in nine (9) United Nations peacekeeping missions overseas as of January 2013.
As a member of the United Nations and an original signatory to the UN Charter, participation in UN Peacekeeping Operations (UNPKOs) is a means for the Philippines to reaffirm its commitment to the preservation of international peace and security. Nevertheless, the country’s commitment differs and varies considerably by deploying troops or abstaining completely. This issue of selectivity raises the question why the Philippines chose to participate in some UNPKOs and not in other similar ones.
A study found out through Rational Actor Model by the University of the Philippines, decisions of participation and/or non-participation made at the political level were rational and maximized the Philippines’ interests including international image, US-RP relations, regional security, and economic benefits. Through Organizational Process Model, decisions made at the organizational level, particularly on what to send to the peacekeeping mission area were determined by organizational constraints including standard operating procedures, culture, precedents, budget, and resources.
The Philippine constitution states that “the Philippines renounces war as an instrument of national policy.” With this as a basis, the Philippines organized its armed forces for the purpose of defending the state and never project forces outside the territory for conquest. It is also an avid adherent to regional and global peace and stability as part of its national interest, and it is committed to support any effort to sustain and maintain such circumstances with the use of the armed forces through peaceful operations and through regional cooperation with the United Nations (UN). Therefore, it has to prepare its armed forces for deployment for future conflicts that would threaten world peace and stability.
The Philippines’ participation in UN peacekeeping efforts has provided the opportunity to show good international relations, foster regional integration and cooperation, and on the less altruistic side, provide economic benefits to our soldiers and improve the quality of the Armed Forces of the Philippines. While the Philippines can decline participating in peacekeeping operations, it has become imperative that it take active part being a member of the UN and in furtherance of its national interest. The President Executive Order number 97 (EO 97) signed on 23 April 2002 explicitly recognized the UN’s role in maintaining international peace and security, and honors obligations under the Charter through participation in peace initiatives. With this as an anchor, the Philippines had reaffirmed its commitment not only to the UN but to the international community in helping troubled nations attain peace and stability. Also, by virtue of this commitment, the Philippines is bound to send contingents that will perform tasks outlined in the UN mandate.
The Philippines’ first contribution to peacekeeping operations dates as far back as the Korean War from 1950 to 1953 when North Korean crossed the thirty-eighth parallel and “violated” the UN Charter. The Philippines response to the UN call was to send the Philippine Expeditionary Forces to Korea (PEFTOK).
The Philippines then participated in UN peacekeeping operations in 1963 when it contributed a 40-member squadron from the Philippine Air Force to provide air support for the UN mission in the Congo. Since then, Filipino peacekeepers have made their presence felt in UN operations in Afghanistan; Cambodia; Burundi; Cote d’ Ivoire; Darfur; Georgia; Golan Heights; Haiti; Iraq; Liberia; Kashmir; Kosovo; Nepal; Sudan; and Timor-Leste.
Participations include the UN peacekeeping operations in Congo (ONUC) in 1992-1993, in Iraq (UNGCI) from 1991-1992, Cambodia (UNTAC) from 1992-1993, Haiti in 1994, and Kosovo from 1999 up to the present. The Philippines sent military personnel to the INTERFET. The UN Transition Authority in East Timor (UNTAET) Peacekeeping Force, initially led by Lieutenant General Jaime S. De Los Santos, was the first UN multinational force commanded by a Filipino and Asian national.
Since the publication of Executive Order 97 in 2002, the Philippines has sent four groups to UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) and two groups to UN Mission in Haiti since December 2004. The Commander-in-Chief, through Executive Secretary Eduardo R Ermita, has approved the detail of the 165-member contingent to Liberia, and the 155-member contingent to Haiti, and the fifth group of the Philippine Contingent to Liberia (PCL). The third batch of the Philippines’ United Nations Mission to Haiti (UNMH) was dispatched in December 2005. Philippines had a total of 1,056 Filipino peacekeepers serving in nine UN peacekeeping missions at the end of 2009. The 2009 surge made up for the peacekeeping slots the Philippines lost as a result of the pullout of the PNP contingent from Kosovo following the assumption by the European Union of UN peacekeeping responsibilities there. The Philippines also lost some slots with the closure of the UN Observer Mission in Georgia and the downsizing of UNMIL.
Although the Philippines abides with its obligation to the UN, its participation in peacekeeping missions considers the following factors: national capabilities, the domestic peace and order situation, and ultimately, national interest and national goals. The Philippines puts highest priority on missions conducted in Southeast Asia.
The government takes into consideration its affiliation to the states within the Asian region and does not compromise its commitment to its neighbors. While there is no geographical limit to the Philippine participation in peacekeeping, in terms of strategic priorities, Southeast Asia and the Asia-Pacific region rank the highest. Also, ethnic and racial affiliation plays an important role in peacekeeping in Asian societies as it foster better relationship between peacekeepers and the community where they work. Military personnel who worked with the UNTAC in Cambodia observed that Filipino soldiers and other Asian contingents were more welcomed by the locals compared to European or American peacekeepers. Similarly, experience with UNTAET in East Timor showed parallel tendencies. More importantly, establishing regional peace and security, as well as cooperation with neighbors, is in consonance with the Philippine national interest. However, this does not mean that the Philippines will not respond to the situations in other regions. Its participation to several missions in Africa, Middle East, and Latin America is an indication of its commitment not only to regional, but also to global peace and security.
The Philippines greatly considers the safety of personnel involved in these operations.
Historically, it only participates in operations that satisfy the following: authority from the UN Security Council, a clear and achievable mandate, a determinable if not definite time frame and exit strategy, and consent of the receiving state for the UN peace operations.
Another serious consideration has been the availability of funding to support participation since in most cases the contributing nation has to shoulder the financial burden of sending a contingent. The country relies mainly on the reimbursement of the UN once the contingent had already been deployed. The source of initial funding requirement has always been a contentious issue that impacts many UN peacekeeping participants. In some instances, this consideration likewise becomes the factor in non-participation by the AFP to regional collective initiative for peace operations.