No raison d'être for appointment of military generals to implement PH action plan vs COVID-19

There is no rationale for the appointment of retired military generals in the government’s “National Action Plan” (NAP) against the 2019 coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, human rights watchdog Karapatan asserted, rebutting Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo’s statement justifying President Rodrigo Duterte’s appointment of ex-military men to lead the NAP’s implementation.

“Panelo’s mental gymnastics simply won’t cut it. A pandemic is, above all, a public health emergency — not an insurgency nor a rebellion. Why then are retired military generals heading the government’s response to this public health emergency? Instead of formulating medical and comprehensive socio-economic solutions, Duterte is alarmingly exploiting the crisis and his emergency powers to further militarize the civilian bureaucracy,” Karapatan Secretary General Cristina Palabay stated.

Duterte recently named retired military generals such as Delfin Lorenzana, Department of National Defense secretary, as NAP chairperson, and Department of the Interior and Local Government Secretary Eduardo Año, will serve as vice chairperson. Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Carlito Galvez Jr., meanwhile, will serve as the chief implementer of the NAP, whose job is to ensure the “strict compliance and adherence” of the people to the said plan. Both Año and Galvez are former chiefs of staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.

Panelo, in his statement, claimed that their appointment “simply lies on their culture of discipline, obedience to superiors, training in organization, tactical strategies in fighting the enemies of the state” and that the country is “in state of war against an unseen enemy and we need men and women trained in the art of warfare.”

“Duterte wants yes-men that will merely follow his every order, and an utak-pulbura leadership only yields utak-pulbura responses. This is glaring in Duterte’s appointment of militarist hawks who have been the implementers of the government’s bloody counterinsurgency campaigns. We have also seen this warfreak rhetoric in the government’s policy against the drug menace, another public health problem, and the regime’s ‘war on drugs’ has only resulted to massive bloodshed and human rights violations. This same policy is now being used as the framework to the COVID-19 public health crisis with more State violence and repression,” Palabay said.

The Karapatan official noted that the implications of the government’s militarist response is already resulting to worsening forms of human rights violations and violent abuses of authority, such as the incident last March 25, 2020 where Manila Police District Station 3 Commander Lieutenant Colonel Reynaldo Magdaluyo was seen on video cussing and hitting residents of the Golden Mosque in Quiapo, Manila, even threatening to shoot them for violating quarantine measures.

“From warrantless arrests, inhumane detention and penalties for alleged violators, to remarks from public officials dismissing human rights, incidents of violence from authorities are alarming indications that the government’s militarist response is worsening the crisis that we already have. Duterte can claim that ‘this is not martial law,’ but it is more than glaring at this point that he is using this public health crisis as an excuse to railroad draconian measures, appoint his militarist allies, and deploy more military and police personnel in communities. He is already implementing martial law without declaring it, and this will only result in worse and more violent forms of human rights violations in the days to come, if not deaths both from the pandemic and State violence,” she averred.

“We reiterate that the government must address this public health crisis with the necessary scientific, medical, and mass-oriented measures such as mass testing and the construction of more isolation facilities. Socio-economic aid must be given to the poor and vulnerable such as workers, farmers, the homeless, and the urban poor. A comprehensive response to the COVID-19 pandemic requires addressing the needs of the people and upholding their basic rights and dignity. The appointment of militarist hawks and the continuation of militarist response against the disease is unreasonable, and thus will only worsen this public health crisis,” Palabay ended.