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Bacolod City, Philippines Friday, August 28, 2020
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Come To Think Of It
with Carlos Antonio L. Leonardia

World War C


If we liken the coronavirus disease 2019 pandemic to a world war and the infection numbers is the casualty rate of countries, the Philippines would by now be one of the biggest losers in World War Covid.

Since we are a war-mongering people, with leaders always talking and posturing about waging wars against drugs and corruption, let us view our country’s response to World War C to see just how we’ve fared in this particular war.

It all started in January 2020, when the rumors of the enemy, a novel virus, started emanating from China. In a country that was prepared for such a war, the intelligence community would’ve picked up on the threat and immediately started reviewing, revising and crafting plans for the different potential scenarios involving that dangerous enemy.

But because our country’s leadership was obsessed it its war on drugs where all our resources were focused, the intelligence budget was spent on other “more important” matters. Our great self-styled wartime leader brushed off the new threat that was not part of his core competency, believing that telling his people he could slap a silly virus would be enough to make them feel safe. The threat level was not raised, no plans or defensive positions were established.

We didn’t have to lock our borders yet then, but the alert level should’ve been raised and preparations for war started. If COVID-19 had been treated as a real enemy, our leaders would’ve prepared a defensive strategy and preparations for the wartime production of weapons and defenses. Intelligence and detection capabilities would’ve been enhanced.

Instead, we did nothing but preen and posture. Our leaders thought that if you couldn’t see the enemy, there was no enemy. By March they would be proven to have made the wrong assumptions.

When the Philippine front of World War C was officially declared in March, we were obviously caught unprepared. We had no intelligence on the enemy. We didn’t bother building the radar systems needed to detect it. We had no weapons to fight it. Zero defensive positions were erected and there was no battle plan. The only war-like thing we did was to put retired generals in charge of a war that was actually a health care crisis.

Retired generals were put in charge of our country’s response to World War C but they somehow failed to recognize the battlefield. Our radar capability, aka testing, was non-existent when we started. There was no urgency to build it up. We didn’t even have enough face masks and PPE when the war broke out. It was like sending soldiers into the battlefield without body armor, helmets and bullets, yet nobody really panicked.

We didn’t have a choice but to lockdown, military style. Again, our leaders fought the wrong battle. They were fighting the people, arresting the “pasaway” who were actually behaving. They made up silly rules and regulations, set curfews, required us to spend for our own personal defense to make up for their failure to put up a proper national defense. Instead of fighting the virus, they fought the people and that is why we are where we are now.

Even when we were locked down, they still didn’t do enough to defend us. Testing capability wasn’t growing fast enough. Contact tracing efforts were pathetic. The virus was just stewing in the infected areas and they were hoping and praying that the lengthy lockdowns would be enough to starve it. When the lockdown budget ran out, our leaders reopened our cities and provincial borders even if no additional defenses had been erected in the areas that had, thus far, been successfully isolated from the enemy.

Metro Manila is one of the most populous and overcrowded cities in the world and the virus had almost 60 days to multiply. Instead of being weakened by the lockdown, it was growing stronger, feeding on the mass of humanity that had nowhere else to go. The lockdown had successfully contained it to one area but because we couldn’t afford to stick to that one and only strategy much longer, the masses had to be released.

And so they were released to the provinces, en masse. In Negros Occidental, almost all our COVID-19 infections came from these locally stranded individuals. It was like releasing the barbarian horde that had been cooped up inside a walled capital city into the surrounding villages. Even if token defenses had been prepared by the citizens of outlying towns during the lull in the fighting, they never expected to be betrayed by their feudal lords who were supposed to take care of them.

Today, we are fighting the war on a personal level, in close quarter battles at the street level because government failed to put up the necessary defenses and adopt any sort of strategy. For them, the front line is a health care worker, a delivery rider, a grocery cashier, or a bank teller when the front line should’ve been a proper defense buttressed by intelligence gained through compulsive testing, brought together to form a national strategy or battle plan.

The front lines have failed us because none were ever brought to bear upon the enemy. We are down to the last line of defense, defending our homes and loved ones from the virus by wearing masks, washing hands and donning overkill face shields just to feel a little bit safer. The first line of defense failed us because it was unprepared, nonexistent and there was neither a plan nor strategy to defend the country from the enemy. We hoped for the equivalent of radar, air defense, trenches, tanks, artillery and special forces but got nothing while we were hunkered down for 3 months. Our retired generals did not know that they were in a war so they just waited it out from the protection and comfort of their armored and air-conditioned bunkers that were located as far away from the front lines as possible.

In a war, the townspeople resort to defending themselves with homemade weapons and defenses when their government has failed. That is what we are doing now, when the poor have to wear makeshift masks from scrap cloth and face shields from gallon-sized water bottles. We do it because we have no choice, we do it even if our leaders blame us for not doing enough and being “pasaway” when the real responsibility to put up a decent front line of defense was theirs in the first place.

We should’ve have to do this. Other nations are not mounting their last line of defenses but are actually starting to pick up the pieces and recover because their leaders put up a credible national defense for them. They had a strategy, they used intelligence. They fought this war with epidemiologists and scientists in charge instead of retired generals.Their leaders were coherent and provided vision and inspiration instead of dishing out bad jokes, terrible advice and heaps of despair.

We will defend ourselves and our homes because we have no other choice and because we are famously resilient. Perhaps we will prevail, when the magical vaccine cavalry finally comes. Until then, we must not forget that we are still at war, the enemy is at the gates, and we are on our own. We shouldn’t expect reinforcements, but we can still pray for a miracle.*  

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