Indonesian “Total People’s Defense” Against Coronavirus

By Rafyoga Jehan Pratama Irsadanar and Muhammad Aziz Irfanuddin (Photo: Indonesian Ministry of Defense)

Unlike some other countries which utilize military measures to push the people to stay home under the social distancing plan, the Indonesian Minister of Defense, Prabowo Subianto makes a minimalist appearance in public. As others are deploying troops to prevent riots or to shoot lockdown offenders down, many have questioned the absence of Prabowo in the battle against coronavirus. The critics are asserted by the notion that COVID-19 is considered as a non-military threat against national security, in which people assume that it is within the Ministry of Defense domain to deal with. However, earlier in his administration, Minister Prabowo highlighted a concept of Total People’s Defense (Pertahanan Rakyat Semesta) as the central tenet for the national security. That military doctrine could be a sidekick to lead the people battling the outbreak.

Total People’s Defense and Coronavirus

The core idea of Indonesian Total People’s Defense was initially introduced in article 27 of the Indonesian 1945 Constitution, stating that every citizen has the right and obligation to defend the country. The principle was advanced in Indonesian Constitution no.3 of 2002 as it the article 2 states “the national defense system is a total defense system involving all citizens, territories and other national resources, and is prepared by the government and is carried out in a total, integrated, directed, and continuous manner to protect state sovereignty, territorial integrity, and nation’s security from all kind of threats.” In the sense of traditional war, it will require all layers of Indonesian citizens to be part of the battle.

Even though it was criticized for being outdated when Prabowo planned to amplify the concept through country defense program (program bela negara), Total’s People Defense could be a good deal in combatting the outbreak. Through Regulation no. 23 of 2019, the concept explains that Indonesia’s total defense system is divided into three components; the main component, secondary component, and the supporting component. The classification works as an inclusive parameter easing citizens to participate in the defense system based on their roles and occupations. So even when the citizens are not incorporated in the military forces, they will still be able to fulfill their obligations based on their specialty among the three clusters.

Contextualized with COVID-19, the main component would be carried out by the Ministry of Health as the frontline to stop the virus spreading through its leadership, expertise, and authority. The secondary component will be the Indonesian army as well as relevant stakeholders and related ministries to support the logistic distribution. Indonesian citizen will be the supporting components to stop the spread of COVID-19 by enforcing the physical distancing and to follow the government regulations.

In a pandemic, the Total People’s Defense is accurate to execute the concept where the ‘enemy’ is literally in front of everyone. It also requires collective practical participation from all layers of society to combat it, ranging from essential key workers in the frontline to corporate workers working from home. Regardless of the invisibility of the virus, everyone’s life is as stake without the collective actions.

Supporting Central Government Leadership Crisis

In the current crisis, the manifestation of the defense doctrine could support the lacking central government leadership in facing the outbreak. The mismanagement of the outbreak and controversial statements made by the Indonesian Health Minister has revealed the flaws of government leadership. Even though Prabowo admitted that he was not trained to face the ‘unseen’ such as to cure a pandemic, but the retired general was prepared in leading people to face the worse situation in crisis. This military trait should be able to back the government, regaining the people’s trust.

The military doctrine has the potential to mobilize people to stay at home. As characterized earlier, the Total People’s Defense could make everyone feels significantly involved in defending the country. It fits the context of Indonesian society where the people are more likely to be swayed by a personal approach, as many campaign strategists are making the candidate personally attached to voters during elections. This trait could be taken advantage of in dealing with coronavirus, as the current measures are making the society as the object by forcing them to stay home, sometimes against their will. The Total People’s Defense will make Indonesians the subject against coronavirus as they feel personally involved in flattening the curve.

Despite the aptitudes, raising the awareness to battle the virus is difficult when the vulnerable are not protected yet. As what is happening around the world, many are not able to stay home as they worked daily jobs, forcing them to break the rules for social distancing. However, many are not self-quarantining themselves due to the lack of information. The latter group could be the initial target of the Total People’s Defense narratives in flattening the curves. As the most significant active internet user in Southeast Asia, the Indonesian government should massively campaign the military doctrine to increase its people’s awareness and reaffirm its leadership amidst this health crisis.

From the government standpoint itself, the government must be transparent and establish effective coordination among its ministries, preventing contradictive policies in stopping the COVID-19 pandemic. Unified policies by related ministries and agencies should be made harmoniously under the Ministry of Health and COVID-19 Task Force strategy, with the President Office taking the command. Rather than focusing on resource-wise, as the central government has proven to be able to pay influencers to boost tourism amidst coronavirus, they could readjust the focus to campaign the Total People’s Defense against coronavirus. Such a budget could be allocated to support the frontline workers as the main component of the national defense and to subsidize the vulnerable actors.

Rafyoga is Monbukagakusho Scholar in Graduate School of International Cooperation Studies (GSICS), Kobe University. Prior joining GSCIS, he was a research intern and research assistant at ASEAN Studies Center, Universitas Gadjah Mada.

Muhammad Aziz is scholarship grantee in Indonesia Defense University. He is a post-graduate student in the Faculty of National Security, Department of Peace and Conflict Resolution.

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