PH military’s routine, programs come under COVID-19 attack
MANILA, Philippines—Routine in the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) has come under attack by an invisible enemy, the virus that causes novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19).
The pandemic’s impact on organizations worldwide did not spare the Philippine military, which thrives on routine. And while it has taken a pause in counterinsurgency operations because of separate truce declarations by the government and rebels, the Philippine military has found a new, largely unknown enemy in COVID-19.
AFP chief of staff Gen. Felimon Santos Jr. had tested positive for COVID-19 last week after being exposed to a carrier, a senior officer.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana immediately placed himself on self-isolation on March 27 after Santos’ results were released. He already tested negative for the virus but will stay on quarantine until April 6.
Army chief Lt. Gen. Gilbert Gapay also placed himself in isolation because he had been in contact with Santos on March 16 during a conference in Malacanang.
Air Force chief Lt. Gen. Allen Paredes also placed himself on home quarantine starting March 24, the day the unnamed senior officer, whom he had contact with, tested positive for COVID-19.
Gapay and Paredes are not exhibiting any symptoms, but will remain working from home in the meantime.
Other military and civilian personnel have also placed themselves on quarantine because of their exposure to Santos and the senior officer.
Navy chief Vice Adm. Giovanni Carlo Bacordo just finished his 14-day mandatory quarantine. He came in contact with the senior officer, Santos and Senators Juan Miguel Zubiri and Aquilino Pimentel III on different occasions. He already tested negative for COVID-19.
On Tuesday (March 31) he visited Navy personnel stationed at checkpoints around Marikina City and Cainta, Rizal.
While social distancing was enforced in the military at the onset of the health crisis, the virus, like an infiltrator, still found its way to the highest levels of chain of command.
Most of the military commanders may be working remotely because they are on quarantine, but technology has allowed them to keep the organization running.
“Physically, they are not able to meet and discuss. But thanks to the technology available. They can still gather heads together, discuss, and decide,” AFP spokesperson Brig. Gen. Edgard Arevalo said on Wednesday.
On Tuesday, Santos convened the Board of Generals through video teleconference to discuss “important matters.”
“The AFP chain-of-command is as strong. Its efficient and effective functioning are unhampered by the quarantine requirements for some who are part of it,” the spokesperson said.
The military is playing a key role in the government’s response to the health crisis. Its troops are deployed to enforce peace and order during the enhanced community quarantine. Military assets—ships, trucks, cargo planes—are in constant use to transport people and supplies for the battle against COVID-19.
Officers and men had been tasked with protecting the people but they have to protect themselves, too, in the mission to stop COVID-19 dead on its tracks. The adjustment included dropping military routine, like large formations.
Gatherings like flag-raising and flag retreat ceremonies were set aside for the time being, said Arevalo. Large, collective exercises like mass calisthenics every Tuesdays and Thursdays were also temporarily stopped.
On Tuesday (March 31), AFP chief Santos issued a memo requiring all military and civilian personnel to wear face masks at all times while inside Camp Aguinaldo, the AFP headquarters.
A “no face mask, no entry” policy will also be implemented starting April 2. Other military camps nationwide are expected to follow suit.
COVID-19 casualty: Training
Joint training programs were also cancelled due to health concerns. The Balikatan drills with American counterparts, which was set in May, was called off.
Engagements with the National Guards of Guam and the National Guards of Hawaii under the State Partnership Program of the Mutual Defense Board-Security Engagement Board were also put on hold, Arevalo said.
The nationwide Presidential Silent Drill Competition was likewise suspended.
The graduation ceremony for the Command and General Staff Course Class (CGSC) 66 was delayed because immersion on the ground, which is part of curriculum requirements, cannot be fulfilled under enhanced quarantine conditions.
The CGSC is a training program for senior officers before they occupy higher command and staff positions in the military.
The CGSC Class 67, which convened on March 6, is currently conducting classes through online learning platforms instead of face-to-face, Arevalo said.
Rotation of troops and reassignment of personnel were also suspended.
Retiring ceremonies of ranking Army officers in field units last week were presided over by the Army chief through a video conference.
Tight restrictions have also had an impact on the military program to modernize.
Part of the modernization program that had been set aside was foreign travel by officers for post-qualification inspection of materiel and weapons. Meetings had also been cancelled, according to a senior defense official.
The Philippine Army’s scheduled inspection in the US set this month of Cobra helicopters and C-12 aircraft, which are on the military’s wish list, may have changes, too, said Army spokesperson Col. Ramon Zagala.
Delivery of assets, like six units of A-29B Super Tucano aircraft for the Philippine Air Force, had been further delayed because of the pandemic, said PAF spokesperson Maj. Aris Galang.
It remained to be seen whether final inspection of the Philippine Navy frigate BRP Jose Rizal would push through in South Korea before the ship’s scheduled delivery at end of April.
But despite the attack on routine and schedules by COVID-19, Arevalo said he believed the military remained “stable.”
“Our people can be rest assured that their AFP is stable as it is strong come COVID-19 or high waters,” he said.
Edited by TSB
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