Thursday, August 16, 2012

Tribute to Gen Natalio 'Boying' Ecarma III

World-class Filipino General
                                        by Alexander Yano

It is very remarkable for a military General to lead a multi-national force and at the same time act as head of mission in a United Nations (UN) Peacekeeping Operations mission.

On this note, I am proud to pay tribute to a fellow “cavalier” who proved to the world that Filipino Generals are world class in caliber. A graduate of PMA Class 1981, Major General Natalio “Boying” Ecarma III relinquished his duties and responsibilities as the Force Commander and Head of Mission of the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) to Major General Iqba Singha of India last August 13, 2012. UNDOF is one of the oldest and longest standing peace keeping operations missions of the UN.

It is located in the disputed Golan Heights, a demilitarized zone serving as buffer area between the Israeli Defence Force (IDF) and the Syrian Arab Armed Forces (SAAF). This piece of land is situated in southwestern Syria overlooking northern Israel.

“Boying” Ecarma assumed command from Major General Wolfgang Jilke of Austria last February 12, 2010. The Philippine government favorably endorsed “Boying” and he competed with other nominees from various nations in the selection process. After a stringent selection procedure conducted by a UN selection committee, Ecarma bagged the post. He took dual posts, as a force commander and head of mission which is rather unusual, for the latter is equal to the rank of a UN Assistant Secretary-General. Not all UN Peacekeeping Force Commanders are concurrently designated to as head of mission. “Boying” is one among the three Force Commanders to bag these two posts; the other two are the force commanders of United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) and United Nations Truce Supervision Observation (UNTSO) in Jerusalem. All other 16 current Peacekeeping Force chiefs worldwide are serving in the lone capacity of Force Commanders. In a UN mission, there are two chiefs who share equal power under the UN mandate – the Force Commander and the Head of Mission. The Force Commander leads the military component while the Head of Mission is the chief of the logistics and administrative aspect of the mission. Both posts entail high responsibility and accountability.

Major General Ecarma led 1,047 UNDOF peacekeepers with a support staff of 150 civilians. A total of 348 Filipino troopers are part of this multinational force. The Philippines has been continuously sending every year to UNDOF this number of military peacekeepers.

“Boying” Ecarma’s watch in UNDOF had been a very challenging one. He passed a crucial time in UNDOF’s history when the region was beset by a series of unrests following the Arab uprising in some areas of the Middle East beginning in early 2010 and continues to the present Syrian unrest. The UNDOF’s Areas of Limitation and the Area of Separation were not spared of Arab protests; and these have not occurred for the last 30 years. Significant were the events on Nakba Day or “Day of the Catastrophe,” which ironically is the Arab commemoration of the creation of Israel; and Naksa Day that means “Day of the Setback,” which is the Arab commemoration of the Six Days War. On Nakba Day, protests focused in Mahjal Shams where demonstrators crossed the technical fence separating the Golan Heights. On Naksa Day, there were more demonstrators and attempted incursions that occurred in Mahjal Shams and Quinetra, a place adjacent to the Golan Heights. A UN Spokesman said that in both events, the long-held ceasefire was put in jeopardy. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon called for maximum restraint on all sides and strict observance of international humanitarian law to ensure the protection of civilians.

During those interesting times, “Boying” Ecarma practically stood between the furious IDF fence defenders and the angry Arabs who sought to cross the fences separating the two countries inside the Golan Heights. This Filipino General boldly crossed a landmine area in the middle of two opposing forces in gestures of pacifying the tense situation. The IDF were guarding their side with lethal weapons while angry Palestinian and Syrian Arabs tried to cross the Golan fences. Without the timely and audacious intervention of UNDOF forces under General Ecarma, bloodshed and mass slaughter could have occurred. This incident during Nakba Day was shown worldwide over the Internet and international television networks. This incident earned him accolades from the UN leadership. A Force Commander and Head of Mission is supposed to serve a maximum tenure of only one year, yet Boying’s tenure was extended to lead UNDOF for two more consecutive terms from 2010 to August of 2012.

The Philippines had already produced a UN Force Commander prior to Boying Ecarma’s stint in UNDOF. Lieutenant Geneneral Jaime de los Santos (Ret) headed the UN Forces in East Timor in the late 90s.

MGen Natalio “Boying” Ecar-ma III is certainly one Filipino leader whom we should be proud of. I had the chance of working with him in the Presidential Security Group in 1998-99. Boying then, had shown the marks of an excellent and professional officer while serving as Presidential Guards Commander. The exemplary acts he showed in the eyes of the civilized world are something worth emulating by present and future generations of soldiers and Filipinos. Indeed, Filipinos can be world-class.

(Note: This article is published in the Manila Times issue today. Please follow the link: .All photos are provided by our Filipino peaceepers who are serving at UNDOF)

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