New ‘warfare vs the veerus’
COMMONSENSE - Marichu A. Villanueva (The Philippine Star) - March 30, 2020 - 12:00am

Two weeks of “community quarantine” have gone by for all of us here in Luzon and now we’re entering the third. But the cases of infection from 2019 coronavirus disease, COVID-19 for short, are still on the rise. In fact, the number of COVID-19 positive cases has broken the 1,000-mark. 

But what is more worrisome is the latest tally of deaths here in our country, mostly the elderly who succumbed to complications caused by COVID-19 with total of 68 as of last Saturday. If it is any consolation to us, other countries have much more number of deaths from this pandemic flu-like COVID-19 contagion.  

Initially, President Rodrigo Duterte activated the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging and Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) chaired by Department of Health (DOH) Secretary Dr. Francisco Duque III. The DOH-led Task Force, as it turned out, is not sufficient to supervise this kind of “warfare” against what President Duterte calls as the “veerus” that has no face. 

The former Davao City Mayor went back to his favorite “warfare” operators because he believes they are more reliable and do not question the instructions and orders of their Commander-in-Chief. He gave the mission order: to flatten the curve of the COVID-19 cases in the Philippines on or before April 15 when the month-long Luzon-wide community quarantine lapses.  

Let’s call it as the new “warfare versus the veerus.” 

To this end, the President created last week the National Task Force (NTF) on COVID-19 and designated Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana as its chairman and retired Gen. Eduardo Año, former Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief of staff, as vice chairman. The NTF is empowered to operationalize the policy recommendations of the IATF-EID. But Lorenzana is currently sidelined as he went into a 14-day self-quarantine after close contact with incumbent AFP chief of staff Gen. Felimon Santos Jr. who was tested positive for COVID-19 infection. Unlike Lorenzana who was recently added to the anti-COVID campaign, Año has already been deep into the forefront of the “warfare vs the veerus” since day one as part of the IATF-EID.  

Completing the new strategy in carrying the “warfare vs the veerus” was the creation of a sub-body called as the National Action Plan (NAP) against COVID-19. It was obviously patterned after the Duterte administration’s anti-insurgency campaign dubbed as “Whole of Government Approach” which is currently being implemented by the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) headed by another retired AFP chief of staff Carlito Galvez Jr.

In a memorandum signed last March 24 by Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea, Galvez was named as “chief implementer” of the Philippines’ national policy against COVID-19, or NAP for short. Citing this “unprecedented health crisis that the world populace has never seen before,” Galvez vowed to ensure the strict compliance and adherence of everyone to the guidelines and protocols contained in the government’s NAP against COVID-19.

“The COVID-19 pandemic is not only a health crisis but also an economic, social and security crisis which is sweeping across our country and the world,” Galvez pointed out. “We have to be at least two or three steps ahead and carry out crucial interventions at the soonest possible time,” Galvez disclosed. Offhand, Galvez mentioned NAP’s four strategies: 

– First, to provide clear, accurate and timely information to support the operations against COVID-19;

– Second, to contain and prevent the further spread of the virus;

– Third, to sustain the conduct of operation against COVID-19; and,

– Fourth, to mitigate the consequences and social, economic, and security impact of COVID-19.

May I just dwell on the first strategy which we, in mainstream media, should be part of the solution and not be part of the problem. Unfortunately, we have no control over the so-called “social media” which has been on extra high-drive since the mandatory community quarantine has given plenty of time for these people with nothing better to do with their idle time.

Take the case of Dr. Edsel Salvana, an infectious disease specialist, who has been very vocal over the “noise” by know-it-all people from the social media. Salvana is the director of the Institute of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology at the National Institute of Health of the University of the Philippines (NIH-UP) in Manila. I quite agree with Salvana’s observation that many of these self-acclaimed “influencers” from the social media post a lot of unfounded, if not “fake news” about the COVID-19. And their posts are being picked up by politicians and other people with bright ideas who mess up the conversation and chatter. 

“Misinformation is picking up again and so I’m putting this together to correct some of the confusion. Part of the problem is that there are a lot of technical terms and people keep misinterpreting,” the good doctor wrote in his Facebook account. At the outset, he clarified he is not an employee of DOH but he does help by giving advice to them. The NIH-UP is under the autonomous body of the UP system.

Salvana got into a debate over the weekend on his Twitter Account on the issue of the number of patients who have undergone COVID-19 testing at the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM), a DOH-attached agency that operates the authorized laboratory tests to confirm COVID-19 infection. “I help run the UP-NIH laboratory so I am AWARE of what the testing and lab issues are,” Salvana wrote.

With just 140 characters per tweet, apparently important details were not properly put in context. So Salvana used his Facebook account where he wrote a lengthy point-by-point explanation to correct many smart-alecky comments on the low number of COVID-19 tests being done by the DOH.  

We will take it up in my next column this Wednesday. Meanwhile, our Kapihan sa Manila Bay has been temporarily suspended also for the duration of the community quarantine period. But we will be keeping a close tab on the “warfare vs veerus.”

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