Filipino marine general to assume command of UNDOF in the Golan Heights

The Philippines will assume command of the 1,050-strong United Nations peacekeeping force in the Golan Heights next month with the appointment of a decorated marine general as the new force commander and head of mission, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) announced on 22 January 2010.

DFA Secretary Alberto G. Romulo said Maj. Gen. Natalio Ecarma III was formally appointed by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon as the new Force Commander and Head of Mission for the UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) in the Golan Heights.

"The Philippines is honored to have been given the responsibility of helping oversee the peace in that part of the Middle East," Secretary Romulo said after he was informed of Ecarma's appointment by Ambassador Hilario G. Davide, Philippine Permanent Representative to the United Nations.

Romulo said Ecarma will replace Maj. Gen. Wolfgang Jilke of Austria and will head what is considered as one of the more established UN peacekeeping operations composed of 1,050 troops from Austria, Canada, Croatia, India, Japan and the Philippines; 75 military observers; 39 international staff; and 105 local civilian staff.

A member of the Philippine Military Academy Class of 1981, Ecarma is presently the Deputy Commandant of the Philippine Marine Corps and the Commander of Marine Forces Southern Philippines. He previously served as commander of the Presidential Guards Battalion; assistant chief of staff for operations of the Presidential Security Group; and commander of the 3rd Marine Brigade.

Ecarma's appointment came almost 10 years after Army Maj. Gen. Jaime De Los Santos was named commander of UN peacekeeping forces in East Timor. It also came only three months after the Philippines deployed a 336-member infantry battalion to the Golan Heights to assume peacekeeping responsibilities from Poland.

The UN Security Council established the UNDOF at the end of the Arab-Israeli War in 1974 to maintain the ceasefire and supervse the disengagement of Israeli and Syrian forces and oversee the so-called Areas of Separation and Limitation between the two parties.

The Philippines has been an active contributor of troops to UN peacekeeping operations since 1963 when it deployed a squadron from the Philippine Air Force to support UN operations in the Congo. At the end of 2009, the Philippines was 23rd in the UN list of top troop contributing countries with a total of 1,056 officers and personnel from the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine National Police serving in Afghanistan, Cote d'Ivoire, Darfur, the Golan Heights, Kashmir, Liberia, Timor-Leste, and Sudan.