Death of young Army officer also highlights coronavirus risks among troops

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, April 10) - "I love you, Dong!"

This endearing caption accompanied the profile photo Army junior officer Vico Magbanua uploaded on his Facebook account on Friday morning.

The photo, showing him together with his twin brother, Vince, during happier times at the Philippine Military Academy in Baguio City. They are both Army second lieutenants.

The photo was Vico's way to pay tribute to Vince, who died on Wednesday afternoon, April 8, while being rushed to a Bulacan hospital.

Vince had complained of "severe difficulty in breathing". A day before, he was diagnosed with "acute bronchitis" and was told to go on isolation after experiencing symptoms of the coronavirus, including dry cough.

The Army's 48th Infantry Battalion based in Doña Remedios Trinidad, Bulacan, the unit to which Vince is assigned, has been tirelessly helping out in the government's coronavirus response for weeks now.

On its Facebook page, the battalion's officers and personnel, have been carrying out relief operations, as well as manning quarantine checkpoints in different parts of Bulacan and Pampanga, especially far-flung communities.

Two days before he passed away, Vince led his team in hauling several boxes of relief supplies to Calumpit town.

Tributes from friends poured in on Vince's Facebook account a few hours after news broke out of his passing on Wednesday night.

Some of Vince's classmates or mistahs at the PMA ALAB-TALA Class of 2018 changed their profile photos to a lighted candle with the class insigna, with messages offering a snappy salute.

In a message to CNN Philippines, Air Force Second Lieutenant Frances Xandra Aquinde, fondly remembers her "beshy (slang for bestfriend) for life".

"He is very attentive sa details ng buhay mo. Kahit napakaliit na bagay, pag nalaman niya, di niya makakalimutan. A very thoughtful person," Aquinde said.

The PMA said that it "grieves the death of one of our young and promising sons."

"Thank you for your service, Vince. You will be greatly missed," the PMA statement added.

Lt. Magbanua was cremated on Thursday. His ashes were flown to Davao City where his family is based.

As of press time, Armed Forces chief, General Felimon Santos, Jr said, they have yet to receive word from the Research Institute of Tropical Medicine (RITM) on the late junior officer's laboratory tests.

Also on Facebook, Vico, appealed for compassion and understanding, while awaiting for his brother's test results.

"And our family, especially Vince, will not be selfish para ipaalam po sa inyo ang resulta. Ipapaalam po namin kapag siya ay nagpositive, ngunit sa ngayon po ay kaunting respeto lamang po ang hinihingi namin," Vico wrote.

Even before results could come out, General Santos said, "all soldiers in contact (with Lt. Magbanua) are already in quarantine." and that "contact tracing was already done."

If he tests positive, Lt. Magbanua will be the youngest military officer to contract COVID-19, and the first to succumb to the disease.

At least three other senior AFP officers, including General Santos himself, earlier tested positive for COVID-19. Santos and other officers have recovered since.

Aside from the layers of safety protocols imposed on military units, including the mandatory use of protective equipment such as face masks, and carrying out decontamination procedures, Santos said, vitamins are also being handed out to soldiers.

Military doctors and medical teams are constantly checking on the frontline troops' condition, Santos added.