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Enemies, seen and unseen

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Last Monday, I escorted my wife Amina to the Peace Partners’ Recognition Day 2022 held by the Office of the Presidential Adviser on Peace, Reconciliation and Unity (OPAPRU) at the Philippine International Convention Center (PICC). She was one of the awardees. I was happy to attend the event, not just because Amina was being recognized for her unwavering support for peace but also because of my deep admiration for Secretary Carlito “Charlie” Galvez, OPAPRU chief. Through Amina, I have known Sec. Charlie as a man dedicated to the peace process and to a final and peaceful resolution of the armed conflict in Mindanao. I personally got to know him through the partnership between the government and the private sector to protect our people and the economy from the pandemic.

The public-private partnership started when Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez requested Jaime Augusto Zobel de Ayala to help organize private sector support for the COVID-19 Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) in its war against COVID-19. Sec. Charlie was the National Task Force Chief Implementer. Apart from regular consultations between the government, the private sector on how to deal with COVID’s economic impact, we rallied the private sector around the testing, tracing, and treatment efforts led by Sec. Charlie.

We private sector representatives were deeply impressed by Sec. Charlie’s strategic understanding of the problem. Instead of merely expanding RT-PCR testing capacity and increasing the PPE inventory, he convinced us to look at a broad front: to Test, Trace, and Treat. Hence the name T3, which he coined at our very first meeting.

Thus, when Sec. Charlie promised “a better Christmas” last May, we were hopeful (https://bit.ly/BetterChristmas051622).

Working with him has made me appreciate Amina’s optimism over the peace process under Sec. Charlie’s leadership and concern about preserving the gains made by OPAPRU under a new administration. She and her fellow awardees hope that Sec. Charlie can continue to serve as Peace Adviser. I can see how the qualities that he exhibited during our work on the pandemic made his stewardship of the peace processes successful.

Let me list the five qualities that impressed us in the private sector, as defined by Bill Luz when he toasted Sec. Charlie at a thanksgiving dinner on May 5, tendered for all in the partnership to neutralize COVID.

First, he was data-driven. Sec. Charlie absorbed all the details of our presentations and used them to help evolve the strategy for our very fluid situation. From those presentations, he adapted the concept of our “Walls of Protection” and deployed the communications plan for people to get vaccinated and build their layers of protection.

Second, he was a perfect fit for the challenge. The Philippines may have gotten off to a slow start in vaccine procurement, but Secretary Charlie proved to be an expert negotiator with the vaccine manufacturers. After negotiating for peace with rebels holding rifles on the table opposite him, he said negotiating with vaccine manufacturers was a relative walk in the park. Whereas in the first quarter of 2021, we feared that we would not have enough vaccines for our people, he eventually helped secure more than enough supplies for the population — including children, second boosters for adults, and boosters for adolescents.

Third, his engineer’s mind could easily process the challenges we were facing. The entire COVID response, and especially the National Vaccination Program, had so many moving parts. Sec. Charlie’s strategic mind shifted from the big picture to the tactical, and back, as conditions shifted and changed. He taught us his “Center of Gravity” approach, and later led us to his “Focus and Expand” strategy, telling us to build “Depth of Defense” along the way. Eventually, our pandemic response’s reach broadened across the country, while preserving gains that had been made.

Fourth, he was extremely hardworking. Secretary Charlie was constantly on the move during this entire COVID period, traveling around the country, going to the airport countless times to accept vaccine shipments, inaugurating vaccination sites, and giving his weekly briefings to the President. He has placed himself at risk of catching COVID so many times that he’s been swabbed for an RT-PCR test around 300 times. And as if the Vaccine Czar job wasn’t enough, he continued with his work as the Peace Adviser, traveling to Mindanao often as the needs warranted.

Finally, he was humble and a pleasure to work with. He promoted teamwork and empowered people to speak and share ideas. We had many discussions on policy and protocol and he was always ready to listen. His calm and cool demeanor and his way of explaining things and giving credit to people were always appreciated. We’re all truly proud to say that we had the chance to serve under a four-star general like Secretary Galvez.

Those five qualities are needed if the mandate of the government for peace, reconciliation, and unity are to be successfully implemented. At the OPAPRU event, Sec. Charlie noted that development is not possible without peace, and peace is unattainable without development. Today, more than ever, we need a leader at the helm of OPAPRU who can strengthen the foundation for peace and development.

The country’s road to a just peace is strewn with barriers, which requires strong, yet compassionate leadership. The creation of a meaningful autonomy in Muslim Mindanao is both a social justice, and peace and development issue, following the Constitutional promise of “closing the gap between law and justice.” Presently, the administration of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao has been overburdened by COVID-19 at a time when the Bangsamoro Transition Authority was just starting to work on a new governance mechanism — that of a parliamentary system. Meanwhile, the threats from violent extremism and the inadequate rehabilitation of the victims of the Marawi Siege were major burdens hobbling the projects of the BARMM leaders.

Another major block on the road to peace is the threat of insurgency from the CPP-NPA-NDF, with the peace process suffering ups and downs in the negotiations amidst allegations of insincerity. Unlike the Moro liberation fronts that had fought for independence, and accepted autonomy in Muslim Mindanao, the Left has always moved for a total change in our national political system and are present in impoverished communities from North to South. As threats go, this has more teeth as the insurgents have held private sector operations hostage in their conflict zones.

The job of the Office of the Presidential Adviser on Peace, Reconciliation and Unity is critical, as the country attempts to rise from the economic devastation of the pandemic. Agriculture has to grow, factories must be operational. Tourism must open our sites to the world. But, as Sec. Charlie had noted, development cannot succeed without peace. As many have noted, it is hoped the country’s journey to peace and development can continue under Sec. Charlie’s stewardship.

Romeo L. Bernardo was finance undersecretary from 1990-96. He is a trustee/director of the Foundation for Economic Freedom, Management Association of the Philippines, and FINEX Foundation.

romeo.lopez.bernardo@gmail.com

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