Maj. Gen. Nolasco Mempin, commander of the Army’s 10th Infantry Division. (Photo from 10ID)

DAVAO CITY – Being in the Armed Forces can be mentally and emotionally taxing, with the effects of scars of wars piling up into untreated trauma and unresolved psychological issues.

Still, each soldier must carry own his or her duty in protecting civilians from enemies of the state, often forgetting the deep-seated pain as they do their work.

All these amidst sudden changes brought by the pandemic, which often means losing contact with families.

Thankfully, the Neuropsychiatric section of Eastern Mindanao Command (Eastmincom) in Camp Panacan Hospital took the initiative to start "Musta Ka Tropa" – a program centered on assessing the mental health of soldiers.

In an interview with the Philippine News Agency on Monday, Eastmincom Neuro Psychiatric Section chief Bernel Ramos said they started the program shortly after the president announced the declaration of community quarantine in March 2020.

"We observed that our soldiers did not generally feel so good during the initial months of the quarantine. It's hard because they cannot go home or see their family, so they had to stay at the camp and some of them did not have a good mobile reception," she explained.

"There was total isolation. They worried about the spread of the virus and who in their families could be affected," she added.

The program which started in the divisions under the Eastmincom would soon expand as more soldiers expressed the need for mental health interventions.

Ramos said even soldiers from as far as Jolo, Sulu, and Cavite would contact their social media channels for help. A number of civilians as far as Dubai also inquired if they could join the program.

"Soon, we will open it for the civilians as well. Many were really affected by the situation emotionally. With no accessible support, we have presented ourselves as options. So their heavy thoughts could at least be lightened," Ramos said, adding that their hotlines are open 24 hours.

Well-being

In a separate interview, Philippine Army's 10th Infantry Division (ID) commander, Maj. General Nolasco Mempin, said the program is proof of the command's focus on the soldiers' well-being.

"That includes keeping them in shape and having good mental health," Mempin said.

Apart from the "Musta Ka Tropa Program," Mempin said the 10ID also conducts regular forum, workshops, neurological tests and distressing activities to prevent stigma on mental health issues.

These mental health interventions, he said, are open "especially for those who are experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder, and any other form of emotional and physical stress that may affect their mental health."

"The command detects patients discreetly or at the tactical level to identify who needs medical attention, in collaboration with our professionals, experts inside and outside of the camp including their families," Mempin added.

Mental health programs, he said, enable soldiers to continue performing their sworn duty of serving the people and securing the land with the mental resilience that will help them find inner peace."

Ahead of the Philippine Army's 125th anniversary on March 22, the 10ID gathered personalities to share their experiences in Mindanao on March 12.

In his speech during the event, Mempin said he believes the government can find the solution to insurgency problems through good governance, unity, and transparency.

“We can now see the advantage of having a collective effort in addressing the problem of insurgency through the whole-of-nation approach under the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict,” he said. (PNA)