One question for Gen. Carlito Galvez Jr.

By: Ramon J. Farolan - @inquirerdotnet - Columnist/Philippine Daily Inquirer | January 25,2021 - 08:00 AM

During the past few days, the “Man of the Hour” has been former AFP chief of staff, Gen. Carlito Galvez Jr., who has been facing a Senate inquiry on the government’s vaccination program. In March 2020, General Galvez was appointed chief implementer of the COVID-19 National Task Force, and his latest title since November has been that of “vaccine czar.” So for the last 10 months, he has been active in closely-related roles, being a vital part of the national effort to address the pandemic facing the nation. Actually, many Filipinos have scant knowledge of General Galvez. Like many of the current AFP chiefs, he was in this position for only a couple of months before he was tapped to be the presidential adviser on the peace process in 2018.

A graduate of the Philippine Military Academy Class of 1985, his curriculum vitae is quite impressive, both in terms of education as well as experience. He has a master’s degree in Project Management from the University of New South Wales in Australia. He completed special courses at the Asian Institute of Management Center for Bridging Leadership, Executive Education at Harvard University, just to mention a few. Galvez graduated at the top of his class at the AFP Command and Staff College. As commander of the First Scout Ranger Battalion, his unit was adjudged as Best Scout Ranger Battalion for two consecutive years, and Best Army Battalion for combat operations the following year.

In January 2017, he took over as Western Mindanao Command (Wesmincom) chief after serving as 6th Infantry Division commander in Maguindanao. Five months later, the siege of Marawi City began, with Abu Sayyaf and Maute-led elements taking over large areas of the city, armed with machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades. It was a situation that did not just happen overnight, but was the result of substantial preparations and careful planning by the enemy, that pointed to a massive failure of intelligence on the part of Wesmincom.

Let me pause to mention an event that took place in the past that resulted in the sacking of a senior officer who was a prime candidate for AFP chief. In 1995, Abu Sayyaf elements raided the town of Ipil in Zamboanga del Sur, killing 53 people and razing to the ground four blocks of the commercial center. Just two days after, President Fidel V. Ramos ordered the relief of Southern Command chief Brig. Gen. Regino Lacson, effectively bringing to an end the promising career of Lacson.

The Battle of Marawi, the longest and deadliest urban engagement in the history of the AFP involving house-to-house and room by room combat action, resulted in the death of 165 soldiers, 47 civilians, almost a thousand militants, and a historic city in ruins. The siege lasted for five months, from May to October 2017.

In the end, no one was held responsible. No one was held accountable, and for some reason, the principle of command responsibility was set aside. In fact, no one was relieved of command in the AFP. General Galvez, the Wesmincom chief, was promoted to AFP chief of staff in April 2018.

Today, General Galvez is the administration’s point man in the procurement of vaccines for our people. So far, his performance has not inspired much confidence. In a recent news article, Johanna Chua, managing director and head of Asia Pacific economy and market analysis at Citigroup, called the Philippines the laggard in terms of COVID-19 vaccine procurement in Asean.

Chua said, “When it comes to vaccine procurement, and we kind of track the supply, I think the Philippines is actually one with the least procurement in Asean, actually Singapore seems to be a little bit ahead, and then, Thailand and Malaysia. Philippines is a little bit lagging.”

Her language is quite diplomatic. Let me add that we are also behind Indonesia. In another report, London-based Capital Economics, said that the Philippines has so far “only secured a small number of doses, and faces many logistical challenges to achieving widespread vaccination.”

On the other hand, Senate President Vicente Sotto III described the late rollout as a “blessing in disguise” as we are learning from the mistakes of others. Unfortunately, in the meantime, people are dying and the economy is headed for a slower recovery.

My question for General Galvez: With over 10,000 COVID-19 deaths in the country, why are we behind Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia, in the rollout of a vaccine that would protect our people and hasten economic recovery?

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