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18 SEPTEMBER 2009
UN AGREES TO TAKE SECOND LOOK INTO DEATH OF RP PEACEKEEPER
NEW YORK—On the request of the Philippines, the United Nations agreed to take a second look into the case of a Philippine Army colonel who died of malaria while serving as a military observer in Sudan two years ago.
The Philippine Mission to the United Nations said the UN agreed to reopen its investigation into the death of Lt. Col. Renerio Batalla on the request of Defense Secretary Gilberto C. Teodoro Jr. who met with Undersecretary General for Peacekeeping Alain Le Roy in New York last week.
“I would like to raise a matter of sensitivity and would appreciate if the United Nations could take a second look into the case of Lieutenant Colonel Batalla,” Secretary Teodoro told Undersecretary General Le Roy during their 11 September meeting at the UN Headquarters.
Batalla was serving as a military observer with the United Nations Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) when he succumbed to cerebral malaria in the southern district of Rembek on 24 October 2007. A UN investigation released seven months later recommended a reprimand for a UN doctor for his failure to extend prompt and proper medical attention to the ailing Filipino officer.
“A review will go a long way in assuaging whatever doubts or apprehensions that have come about as a result of the tragic death of one of our own,” the defense chief told the UN peacekeeping official.
Undersecretary General Le Roy immediately acceded to Secretary Teodoro’s request as he noted the importance the Philippine Government had placed on the case. He also acknowledged the right of the Philippines, as a troop contributing country, to request for such a review.
Secretary Teodoro conveyed the Philippine request to reopen the case six months after Makati Rep. Teodoro Locsin Jr., a member of the House Committee on National Defense, raised Philippine concerns over the Batalla case in his meeting with Undersecretary General Le Roy.
Secretary Teodoro’s request came a few weeks after the Philippine Mission was formally informed by the UN that it could not act on Manila’s demand to remove the doctor and bar him from serving in other peacekeeping missions, saying there was no evidence of gross negligence on his part and that there was no basis for disciplinary action based on existing UN rules and regulations.
In making his request, Secretary Teodoro said reopening the investigation conducted by a UN Board of Inquiry on Batalla’s death could unearth evidence or information that may have been overlooked when the recommendations to reprimand the doctor were made.
Secretary Teodoro also suggested the possibility of formulating mechanisms to ensure that cases are resolved to the mutual satisfaction of all parties concerned, especially the families of deceased peacekeepers.
Ambassador Hilario G. Davide, Jr., Philippine Permanent Representative to the United Nations, welcomed the development, saying this is a positive step that would hopefully allow the Philippine Government and the family of the late officer finally find closure.
“We believe this review will validate the Philippine position that there were serious lapses in how Colonel Batalla’s case was handled,” Ambassador Davide said. “We hope that important lessons will be learned from this tragedy so that none of us would have to go through it again.”
Ambassador Davide said the Philippines has been consistent in inviting the attention of the United Nations to the Batalla case, especially in its interventions in the General Assembly and in the Special Committee on Peacekeeping Operations since 2007.
Early this year, the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) endorsed a Philippine proposal to underscore the responsibility of the United Nations to ensure that medical personnel assigned in mission areas are qualified to provide immediate and proper medical attention to peacekeepers and to hold them accountable if they fail to do so.
The Philippine proposal, which also expressed grave concern over the loss of precious human lives as a result of the negligence and incompetence of medical staff in the field, was later incorporated into the report of the Special Committee on Peacekeeping Operations during its 2009 Substantive Session.
At the time of his death, Batalla, a graduate of the Philippine Military Academy, was one of 11 Filipino military officers serving in Sudan. He died while being transported by helicopter to a UN hospital two weeks before he was to end his one-year tour of duty as a military observer with UNMIS.
The Philippines has maintained a presence in Sudan since 2005 when it was invited by the United Nations to contribute military and police personnel to help supervise a peace agreement between the Khartoum government and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement.
In addition to military observers, the Philippines also has 40 police officers serving in UNMIS—one of two UN peacekeeping operations in that country. The Philippines also has 89 police officers serving with the United Nations-African Union Hybrid Mission in Darfur (UNAMID). ###
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