11 March 2013, Golan Heights – The Philippine Embassy in Tel Aviv headed by Ambassador Generoso D.G. Calonge met at Camp Ziouani the 21 Filipino UN Peacekeepers in the Golan who were abducted and detained for days by the Free Syrian Army. They were conducting a regular resupply mission in the area of operations of UNDOF when they were "taken" by Syrian rebel forces in the nearby village of Jamlah (Syrian side).
The 21 Filipino UN peacekeepers arrived at Camp Ziouani around 6:00pm local time (12 midnight Manila time) and were personally received and greeted by Ambassador Generoso D.G. Calonge, Philippine Battalion Commander Lt. Col. Nolie Anquiliano and other members of the Philippine Contingent. The soldiers entered Israel via the Jordan-Israel border. They travelled non-stop from the border to Camp Ziouani in the Israeli side of the Golan Heights.
Despite the uncertainties they experienced during the four-day ordeal, the soldiers appeared to be in high spirits and were very delighted upon seeing the welcoming party who anxiously lined up and waited for hours. Boosting their morale, their fellow Filipino peacekeepers waived Philippine and UN flaglets and began cheering upon seeing the UN convoy transporting their comrades enter the Philippine Battalion Headquarters in the camp.
Philippine Army Colonel Cirilito Sobejana, Chief of Staff of UNDOF, led the team that received them in the Jordanian border and accompanied them in their travel back to their home base. Upon arrival in the Headquarters of the Philippine Battalion, he immediately reported by phone to Major General Iqbal Singha, Force Commander of UNDOF based in Camp Faouar, Syrian side, of the arrival of the 21 detained UN peacekeepers. Ambassador Generoso D.G. Calonge personally received (also by phone) the message of appreciation from the Force Commander and the UN itself for the unwavering support being extended by the Philippines to peacekeeping operations, especially in the Golan Heights.
Ambassador Generoso D.G. Calonge took the opportunity to talk to the 21 UN Peacekeepers who assembled, together with other members of the Philippine Contingent, in the briefing room of the Philippine Battalion. The Ambassador heralded their bravery and "coolness" in the face of uncommon stress. "You have once again demonstrated the bravery of Philippine soldiers wherever they may be posted at home or abroad, you have defined and personified the true meaning of peacekeeping and you have made your country very proud as you continue to perform your duties and responsibilities without fear in the face of danger," the Ambassador said. "Now, everybody understands that peacekeeping is not a very simple task because it calls, among others, for your fair and sound judgment on each and every situation you find yourselves into," the Ambassador added.
"I fully understand the complexities being faced by peacekeepers. The rules of military engagement are complex but they are much more difficult to apply in situations like these," the Ambassador noted.
Ambassador Calonge reiterated that the Philippines, as a founding member of the United Nations, will remain fully committed to the UN Mandate of promoting peace and security, and that the Philippine Contingent to the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force would remain stationed in the Golan Heights to perform its obligations in the name of peace.
Colonel Sobejano, for his part, expressed UNDOF's appreciation for the unwavering support of the Philippine Embassies in Tel Aviv and Amman. He noted that the safe return of the 21 UN peacekeepers was a sigh of relief. Nevertheless, according to him, the peacekeepers would still have to undergo standard operating procedures applicable in this type of situation before they could return to duty.
Lt. Col. Anquiliano, Philippine Battalion Commander, also conveyed to Ambassador Calonge his and his contingent's appreciation to the Philippine Embassy's effort to boost the morale of Filipino soldiers in the Golan. He noted that it was also difficult for him as battalion commander to "lose" 21 soldiers under his watch, and their release and safe return to home base is indeed an occasion to cherish. He nevertheless maintained that the peacekeepers under his command will remain fully committed to performing their duties as troops of a country that takes its international commitments seriously. —END—