Marawi Siege veterans at the forefront of the war against COVID-19

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 26 March) – President Rodrigo called it “war” against an unseen enemy named novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) and he is fighting the “war” with veterans of the Marawi Siege three years ago re-assembled to head what is referred to as the National Action Plan (NAP).

“I now call on every Filipino to participate in this war by following the guidelines set by the national government and your local officials. Nothing is more important (now) than your cooperation. I repeat: Stay home. Huwag matigas ang ulo. The outcome of this war depends largely on you as well,” he addressed the nation late evening of March 24.

resident Rodrigo Roa Duterte discusses the resolution adopted by the Inter-Agency Task Force on the Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) following the meeting at the Malacañan Palace on March 12, 2020. RICHARD MADELO/PRESIDENTIAL PHOTO

Except for Health Secretary Francisco Duque who was appointed on October 26, 2017 – nine days after Duterte declared Marawi “liberated from the terrorist influence” and three days after Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana terminated all combat operations in Marawi City – four key personalities who handled the Marawi Siege are now handling the siege of COVID-19: Lorenzana, Eduardo Ano, Carlito Galvez, Jr., and Rolando Bautista, all of them retired generals.

Lorenzana, Defense Secretary, was concurrent administrator of martial law in Mindanao during the five-month siege from May 23 to October 23, 2017 and until martial law ended on December 31, 2019. Ano, now Secretary of the Department of Interior and Local Government, was Armed Forces Chief of Staff and Chief Implementor of martial law until his retirement on October 26, 2017. Galvez, now Presidential Adviser on Peace, Reconciliation and Unity, was Western Mindanao Command Chief and Bautista, now Secretary of Social Welfare and Development,  was chief of the 1st Infantry Division.

At one point, Lorenza also chaired Task Force Bangon Marawi but later handed it over to Housing Secretary Eduardo del Rosario, another retired general.

The NAP, the overall national strategy to deal with COVID-19 problem and its aftermath, is chaired by Defense Secretary, vice-chair is the Local Governments Secretary while the Peace Adviser is the chief implementor.

Health Secretary Duque heads the Inter-Agency Task Force on COVID-19, the policy-making body of the NAP.

Galvez’ appointment, dated March 24, was contained in a memorandum from Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea, addressed to the Inter-Agency Task Forc for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases.

As Chief Implementor, Galvez is tasked “to ensure the strict compliance and adherence of every one (public and private sector) to the guidelines and protocols issued by the IATF. He was further tasked to protect and promote the safety and welfare of the public at all times, and ensure the efficient and expeditious distribution of government assistance to the public, with particular attention to our citizens who are in most need.”

The Marawi Siege was the longest urban warfare in the country. It took five months for the military to defeat the IS-inspired Maute Group and the Abu Sayyaf, aided by sophisticated surveillance equipment from the United States and Australia and in early October 2017, a few days before the “liberation,” some M4 rifles from China for the Philippine National Police’s special action force and sniper scopes for the military.

In a statement on Friday, Presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo said the reason why Duterte appointed retired military officials to lead the NAP “simply lies in their culture of discipline, obedience to superiors, training in organization, tactical strategies in fighting the enemies of the state, and thorough preparedness in organization. They are not embroiled in bureaucratic rigmaroles. They abhor useless debates, they are silent workers, not voracious talkers. They act without fanfare. They get things done.”

He said the strict implementation of home quarantine is “a must” and peace and order must be maintained to “make affective the fight against the coronavirus that has placed the nation on the precipice of destruction and death.”

“We are in state of war against an unseen enemy and we need men and women trained in the art of warfare,” Panelo said, adding that with senior ex-military men at the helm of the implementing organizations, the officers and rank and file of the military and police “will necessarily follow the orders coming from them, issued by the Commander-in Chief, without question and with impartiality in the strict implementation of the protocols, guidelines and procedures established by the national government.”

“They will spare no one nor exempt anyone, whether in the private sector or in the government, in applying the law as well as the restrictions imposed by the Constitution in times of national emergency,” he said.  (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)