The ‘New Normal’: How military reserve, police cope with COVID-19

When President Rodrigo Duterte called on the uniformed personnel to help strictly enforce the Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ), there was an uproar from the public, especially since the information came out first from a leaked memorandum, instructing “all personnel to prepare for strict implementation of extensive ECQ” or a “martial law-like” implementation.

The public was particularly concerned about the “iron-fist ECQ implementation that could violate human rights with impunity and disregarding the situation on the ground.”

While some concerns can be valid given our 20-year history with martial law during the time of former President Ferdinand Marcos, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) had been quick to clarify that it “is not taking over as in a martial law setting” and that even in normal times, the military “has been aiding in purely civilian matters whenever necessary, such as disaster situations, rescue, and relief operations and medical missions.”

Since then, the military and police personnel have become one of the familiar faces during this pandemic. But apart from regular military personnel, the AFP has also utilized the services of military reservists. In fact, in Quezon City and Manila alone, 500 reservists were deployed; while the remaining 300 personnel were fielded in Pasay, Taguig, Pateros, and Paranaque.

Time to shine

For Army Major Neil Konrad Binayao III working for GN Power Kauswagan (GNPK), a power plant, and being a Reserve officer at the same time is both a commitment and a challenge, especially during this time.

Army Major Neil Konrad Binayao (left) of the 1003rd Ready Reserve Battalion poses with one of the soldiers at the quarantine checkpoints

“The biggest change would have to be being away from my family for a much longer period of time. Due to precautionary measures, I have to be away for two to three weeks at a time instead of the usual five days. But other than that, I’ve always been a bit of a lone wolf: I could spend an entire day alone inside photography hideout in the forest, so social and physical distancing is nothing really new to me,” said Binayao.

But the major challenge is when he needs to be physically present during his unit’s activities in Malaybalay, the provincial capital of Bukidnon where he is the Battalion S3 of the 1003rd Ready Reserve Infantry Battalion but he’s working in Lanao del Norte, which is about five hours away.

In some cases, he has to rely on his network developed over the years to facilitate the conduct of some activities in Bukidnon while being confined to his place or work.

His unit is only involved in assisting LGUs in Bukidnon in the repacking of food supplies.

“Our LGUs have been very appreciative of the assistance extended by our Reservists and have reciprocated in kind by providing food and transportation assistance to our troops,” he shared.

While a good number of scheduled activities had been put on hold, GNPK has been helpful in assisting the LGUs in terms of providing food assistance in cooperation. They work closely with the security department to facilitate the delivery of much-needed supplies to stakeholders beyond the immediate periphery of the plant site.

While it’s an added work and responsibility, Binayao said that it is in times like this that the value of Reservists as force multipliers get to really shine.

“The spirit of volunteerism and selfless service shown by fellow reservists in this crisis makes me very proud to be one of them,” he quips.

On behalf of an agri-business company and in coordination with an Army unit, they were also able to facilitate the delivery of 200 sacks of rice to a Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) camp that was the site of a development project.

“The happiness and appreciation we saw in the faces of battle-hardened combatants as they unloaded the sacks of rice was priceless.”

Like everyone else, Binayao wears a mask at work, practice social distancing and good hygiene. He also takes multivitamins and eats nutritious food to boost his immune system.

“I also take time to exercise inside my quarters and within our staff house compound.  Aside from getting the physical benefits of exercise, the ensuing release of endorphins can also contribute to mental well-being,” he added.

When he gets to go home, Binayao makes sure he takes extra precautions to ensure the safety of his family.

“First, I travel straight from my workplace. Upon arrival, I proceed to my sister’s unoccupied house, next to ours where I leave all my things, bathe, and change into a fresh set of clothes. Only then do I set foot inside my home,” he said.

Army Major Neil Konrad Binayao of the 1003rd Ready Reserve Battalion in Bukidnon (far right) oversees the turnover of donation boxes for front liners

Be a responsible citizen

Like most of us, uniformed men are also having a hard time adjusting with the so-called “new normal”. Take the case of Police Staff Sergeant Nicolas Lumbuan III of Marikina Police Station who has been in the service for 13 years. He admitted that this is his most challenging assignment for now.

A policeman scrutinizes a rider’s license and other pertinent documents before letting him through the checkpoint

“It’s very risky on our end as we don’t really see who is infected or not. It changed everything from the way I dress. I have to wear a mask as part of my uniform before I enter the office, which makes it more difficult for me to communicate and breathe,” he said.

After work, he also has to change his clothes first before he chats with his family, unlike before he can do that as soon as he arrives. And since he has only two pairs of combat or battle uniform, he still needs to rest before he can wash his uniform, and then after that, that’s the only time he can sleep after his 12-hour shift with no day off as it has been canceled because of this pandemic.

“I pray harder before and after my duty. I ask Him to give me a healthy body and mind while I perform my duties,” he shared.

Apart from wearing masks, Lumbuan has become more vigilant in communicating with his coworkers and the public. He also avoids any social gathering for now and practices good hygiene and sanitation by frequent washing of the hands and using alcohol. He also makes sure he takes his daily dose of vitamins to help boost his immune system.

One of the major challenges he encounters these days are people who are blatantly violating the ECQ guidelines.

“We first talk to the person and explain to them why we need to strictly follow and implement the rules and why we are doing these. But if they don’t listen to us, we issue an ECQ ticket and bring them to the barangay officials. If they resist, we will file a case such as disobedience, resisting of arrest and etc.,” he said.

He recalled one time when they had to transport one member of a civilian family to the hospital because transportation was difficult at that time.

“Even if we were frightened to get infected because one of them is experiencing symptoms of COVID, we still need to fulfill our duties to serve them in these trying times. So, we drove them to the nearest hospital,” he said.

Apart from manning checkpoints, Lumbuan also shared that they also assist in distributing relief goods to several families, and sometimes, they would donate money from their own pockets for this program entitled, ‘Adopt an Indigent Family’ to buy them relief goods.

Admittedly, performing police duties during this time has been really difficult, but if there’s one secret weapon he’d like to share that gets them through their daily tasks is praying together as a team.

“Praying together has become part of our routine now which helps us to battle this pandemic and make us stronger despite a very risky job,” he shared.

Thus, Lumbuan appealed to the public to stay at home and avoid social gatherings, for now, to help minimize the spread of the virus.

“Follow public health guidelines. Practice hood hygiene. Wash your hands regularly or as needed. Be a responsible citizen.”

While the Philippines is ‘getting better’ according to reports, we still need to flatten the curve through expanded testing and intensive contact tracing to help the country return to the “new normal”.

Two policemen check riders for license and travel passes

As of this writing, there are 20,382 total COVID cases nationwide with 4,248 recoveries, 984 deaths. Time and again, the public is reminded to stay at home, wear masks when going out for essentials only, and practice social distancing and good hygiene.

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