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22 OCTOBER 2009
RP FLAG NOW FLIES PROUDLY OVER GOLAN HEIGHTS AFTER
CAMP ZIOUANI, Israel—The Philippine flag was raised for the first time over the Golan Heights today as Manila formally established its peacekeeping presence in this part of the Middle East, taking over from Poland which has recently decided to end its 35-year involvement with the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF).
In ceremonies held here this afternoon, Poland lowered its national colors while the Philippines raised its own to signal the formal assumption by the 1st Philippine Battalion of peacekeeping responsibilities in the southern sector of a United Nations-controlled zone that has kept Israeli and Syrian forces apart since the end of the Arab-Israeli War in 1974.
Lt. Col. Mariusz Jurek, commander of the Polish Battalion, also handed over to Lt. Col. Milfredo Melegrito, commanding officer of the Philippine Battalion, the symbolic key to Camp Ziouani in the ceremonies that were presided over by UNDOF Force Commander Maj. Gen. Wolfgang Jilke and attended by UNDOF officials as well as members of the diplomatic corps and representatives from Israel.
The Philippine Mission to the United Nations said there will be a total of 336 Filipino troops in the Golan Heights by the end of the month when Poland completes its withdrawal from UNDOF, which it has been a part of since it was established in 1974.
The Philippine Contingent will form part of the 1,023-strong UNDOF peacekeeping force that also includes troops from Austria, Canada, Croatia, India and Japan who have been tasked by the Security Council to maintain the ceasefire and supervise the disengagement of Israeli and Syrian forces and the so-called Areas of Separation and Limitation between the two parties.
Philippine Ambassador to Tel Aviv Petronila Garcia, who represented Foreign Affairs Secretary Alberto G. Romulo and Defense Secretary Gilberto C. Teodoro Jr. in the ceremonies, said in her remarks that the deployment to the Golan Heights is the biggest and most challenging peacekeeping operation for Manila in almost a decade and is in line with the country’s obligations as a charter member of the United Nations.
“We also see our presence here in the Golan as our own little way of contributing to peace in the region,” Ambassador Garcia said. “As a friend to both Israel and Syria, it would be to the interest of the Philippines that peace reigns in all of the Middle East where many of our countrymen are based.”
Ambassador Garcia said that in making its decision to accept the UN invitation to deploy an infantry battalion to the Golan, Manila also took into account the fact that in the 35 years of UNDOF’s existence, the ceasefire and disengagement between Israel and Syria has been observed and not a single serious incident has shattered the peace in the area.
“For this, we are thankful not only for the professionalism and dedication demonstrated by UN peacekeepers but also for the excellent cooperation exhibited by both Israel and Syria,” she told her audience who included Maj. Gen. Carlos Holgaza, Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations of the Armed Forces of the Philippines; First Secretary Elmer Cato, Peacekeeping Officer of the Philippine Mission to the United Nations in New York; Col. Gregory Cayetano, Commanding Officer of the AFP Peacekeeping Operations Center, and officers of the Philippine Embassy in Tel Aviv.
Ambassador Garcia also paid tribute to Poland, saying that “the success story that is UNDOF would not have been possible without the hard work and dedication of the hundreds of men and women of the various Polish contingents that have been at the forefront of the UN peacekeeping effort here during the past 35 years.”
“Poland’s contributions to the cause of peace will never be forgotten and the Philippine Contingent can be expected to continue and build on the good work Warsaw has started here in the Golan,” the lady envoy said. “Although the Philippines is a small country with limited means, it takes its responsibility in United Nations peacekeeping very seriously.”
“Like Poland, the Philippines is proud of its strong peacekeeping tradition that dates back to the 1960s when the Philippines first sent an Air Force squadron to support UN operations in the Congo,” she said, adding that Filipino peacekeepers have since served in Afghanistan, Burundi, Cambodia, Cote d’ Ivoire, Darfur, Georgia, Haiti, Iraq, Liberia, Kashmir, Kosovo, Nepal, Sudan and Timor Leste.
When the rest of the Philippine Battalion arrives here at the end of the month, Philippine presence in the Golan Heights will bring to almost 1,000 the total number of military and police personnel serving in United Nations peacekeeping missions.###
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