‘A quarantined mind’
COMMONSENSE - Marichu A. Villanueva (The Philippine Star) - April 8, 2020 - 12:00am

While browsing through Facebook a few days ago, I came across the reposting of a personal account of retired Brig. Gen. Orlando “Jojo” de Leon. With his kind permission, I am reprinting below choice excerpts of his different dissection of how our national government officials – who included many of his former military generals – have been carrying out the war against the 2019 coronavirus disease (COVID-19) contagion raging in our country. Jokingly calling it as the “veerus,” President Rodrigo Duterte tapped former military Generals whom he earlier recruited to serve him in his Cabinet to lead and join the government’s on-going war against the COVID-19 infection.

“Please consider this as a product of a quarantined mind, hence an idle one. It does not intend to hurt sensibilities, but rather to provoke some thoughts... not a fight,” De Leon wrote to set the tone of his unsolicited analysis of the government’s campaign to contain the spread in the Philippines of COVID-19 pandemic.  

De Leon, a member of the Philippine Military Academy (PMA) Class 1982, came out with a three-part article aptly entitled “A quarantined mind.” A veteran in the operations and conflict resolution in Southern Philippines, he is highly regarded as one of the best planners and ground commanders of the Philippine Marine hunting down the Abu Sayyaf group in Patikul town, Sulu and Basilan. He was Deputy Commander of Western Mindanao Command (Westmincom) before retiring from the service in 2015. Now 60 years old, De Leon is currently connected with an aquaculture company based in Bicol.

In oblique reference to his former colleagues in the military, De Leon reminded them about what they have learned and trained for at the PMA.

“As a Marine general, I have always considered our medical personnel as part of our REAR ELEMENTS. In the thick of battle, we bring our casualties to a collection point for first aid, and are further transferred back in line for better medical attention. I have never ever dreamed that my medical personnel, my rear, will fight for me. The implication being, that I have been overran. My lines have been overran by the enemy. I have failed.”

At the outset, he noted, the country already lost the first wave of COVID-19 attack after the initial success of the Department of Health (DOH) in containing the spread after the first three cases of Chinese nationals who came here during the Chinese Lunar Year last January. “We allowed our enemy to enter our gates, our borders. We did not take advantage of our natural barriers…in preventing the enemy from barging through our doors,” he rued. He identified the frontliners then were the Bureau of Immigration, Bureau of Customs, the Department of Transportation, Department of Foreign Affairs, and several other departments or agencies involved in securing our borders.

“When these frontliners were overran, we were in the first stages of preparation for a long fight. Sadly, the onslaught was so fast that it reached our rears. That, my friends, brought us into the thinking that our health workers are the frontliners,” he pointed out.

The rest of his analysis, he wrote with some words in all capital letters to obviously emphasize his points:

“…War is chaos. A plan intends to manage this chaos. This is why most plans focus on the essential tasks each and everyone will perform. Likewise, each and every individual should know and understand the importance of each task in the whole scheme.

Why am I saying all of these? Well, because I see a weakness in our defense plan. Why defense plan? Because we have not invented the weapon to fight the enemy yet. Hence, we could not go into the offensive.

Where does the weakness lie? With due respect to everyone, firstly, the weakness lie in our misidentification of the frontliners. Secondly, we did not allocate tasks correctly.

Who are the frontliners? To me it is the FAMILY. The HOMES and its perimeter. Believe it or not, they are the first ones to confront the enemy and bear the brunt of all ammunitions thrown by COVID-19. I consider hospitals and health workers as the second line of defense where we bring our FAMILY and HOME casualties. The second line of defense should not be made to fight this war. They must be preserved so that the FAMILIES and the HOMES can continue fighting.

Maybe, it is high time to reverse the psychology of our default action of calling the military and the police and other security elements in this type of warfare. I see them as just supporting effort to the main effort... again, the FAMILIES and the HOMES.

We have declared war on COVID-19. We asked every citizen to fight. However, we immobilized the greater part of our fighting force by not giving them the right task. We treated them as ‘pesky’ creatures that cause more problems.

As I’ve said, let us reverse the psychology of this warfare. Let it be understood that the main effort and the first line of defense are the FAMILIES and HOMES. Give them the task of preventing the enemy – COVID-19 – from infiltrating their perimeter and defenses. Arm them with the right tools, knowledge and equipment. And as a fighting force, feed them to sustain the fight. Keep tab of their casualties if ever.

Giving them the sense of responsibility and importance in this war might do the trick. Let us stop the so-called strategic communication of “masuwerte kayo nasa bahay lang, kami nakikipaglaban.” It does not work. It will not work because it is, I believe, a very shallow understanding of the psychology of a nation. Besides, it becomes self-serving and divisive. It does not harness the collective effort and cooperation, rather, it alienates a bigger part of the fighting force. Let us make this OUR FIGHT and NOT YOUR FIGHT.”

During this Lenten period, may I add the prayers for our Divine Mercy to keep protecting and making safe our families from COVID-19 contagion. As this self-acclaimed “quarantined mind” described, it is an “invisible and invincible enemy” of our generation of humanity while the vaccine to vanquish it have yet to be discovered.

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