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Political Tidbits is the prestigious column of Belinda Olivares-Cunanan that ran for 25 continuous years in the op-ed page of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, the newspaper that she helped put up with its multi-awarded founder, the legendary Eugenia Duran-Apostol, in December 1985, just two months before the EDSA Revolution.

Friday, August 30, 2019

If the Chinese government prohibits on-line gambling in its shores, why should PH encourage it here among Chinese arrivals? There are now 58 POGOs all over PH and more expected, drawing thousands of Chinese citizens here. What other undesirable activities could follow? In a poor country such as ours, gambling is undesirable. Also, could we ensure that drugs are kept out?


Huwag naman sana puro pera ang iisipin nating mga Pilipino. The Chinese government bans gambling---strictly prohibited since the Chinese Revolution of 1917---so Chinese gamblers have gone over to the Philippines by the hundreds of thousands. The Philippine government, through Pagcor, has allowed these Chinese gamblers to come in droves to our shores because Pagcor has given these Chinese gambling enterprises the license to operate here the "Philippine offshore gaming operations" (POGO). 

Many of us Filipinos feel most uncomfortable about this arrangement---China prohibits gambling, so its inveterate gamblers are all coming here and there are now 58 such POGOs operating here and from the looks of it, they will continue to mushroom here.

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The Philippine government has ignored China's plea to shut down these POGOs and online gambling here, quite possibly because of the huge income our government earns from this on-line gambling. A good number of our senators, however, among them Sen. Kiko Pangilinan, have asked the government outright TO SHUT DOWN THOSE ONLINE GAMBLING JOINTS. 

For one I have never been a fan of gambling;  what worries me more than anything is that gambling is contagious. As a Chinese official named Shuang himself put it, "Online gambling is a most dangerous TUMOR in modern society, detested by people all across the world. It is a shared hope that the problem could be effectively dealt with." That's a Chinese official talking, so why are we operating those "social tumors" here, to make our society sicker?

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For one thing, at the moment these POGO outlets in the Philippines are only open to the Chinese, but there is no way we can tell if one day Filipinos could be allowed into the POGOs. Moreover, the kind of Chinese citizens being attracted by the POGOs are given to gambling, but with gambling could go drugs, counterfeit money, prostitution and God knows what else. Recall that we are having such a huge problem with drugs coming in from China.

A number of our political leaders, among them Sen. Francis Pangilinan, have urged our government to heed China's call and stop the POGOs. As Sen. Pangilinan said in a statement, quoted by Inquirer, "Gambling is illegal in China. This means that Chinese criminals run the POGOs here. 

 President Duterte is currently in China on another state visit. Let's hope that this issue of the POGOs could be discussed properly between him and President Xi Jinping. 

The basic guideline: IF OFFICIAL CHINA ITSELF WANTS THOSE POGOS CLOSED DOWN, WHY SHOULD OUR GOVERNMENT CONTINUE TO ALLOW THEM TO OPERATE HERE?



Tuesday, August 6, 2019

With current controversy kicked up by Dengvaxia vaccine in this rainy season, it would be best if Senators Dick Gordon and Tito Sotto conduct a hearing on this most crucial health issue. Just how safe is Dengvaxia vaccine? Let's have that public hearing---NOW NA---to settle this issue once and for all.



Chief of the Public Attorney's Office, Persida Rueda Acosta, and Health Secretary Francisco Duque
With the current controversy kicked up by the Dengvaxia vaccine even as the rainy season’s full fury is already upon us,  it would be best if Senators Dick Gordon and Tito Sotto conduct a hearing on this most crucial health issue. Just how safe is this vaccine? Let’s have that public hearing----NOW NA---to settle this issue of the safety of the vaccine once and for all.

My radio partner, Cecile Guidote Alvarez, and I had a predictably fiery session last Sunday night in our regular nationwide dzRH program, “Radyo Balintataw,” with the Chief of the Public Attorney’s Office (PAO), lawyer Persida Rueda Acosta, over the issue of the safe or unsafe use of the vaccine manufactured by Sanofi, the “Dengvaxia Vacine.

Recall that employment of this vaccine was discontinued during the term of former President Benigno Aquino III as a good number of children injected with it either fell ill or even perished. Now Dengvaxia is making headlines again as it’s being recommended for use by some quarters, even as some others are questioning its return with vehemence.

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In our interview of PAO Chief Acosta last Sunday, she vigorously  objected to its use for the Filipino public, citing some episodes that she deemed as having already jeopardized lives. From the looks of it, however, the controversy refuses to peter out and will drag on, until a more authoritative and definitive source could stamp approval or outright disapproval of this controversial vaccine.

 PAO Chief Acosta argued that in its current way of being administered to an ailing public, the vaccine is liable to cause more harm, especially if used on patients who have never had dengue before---like a regular vaccine would operate.  Acosta opined that “lalong lalala ang sakit pag zero negative ang patiente for dengue.” Morover, she cited an 11-page report from the vaccine’s manufacturer, Sanofi, showing some cases’ increase in severity, as well as a conflict of interest situation in that the current Health Secretary, Dr. Francisco Duque, had served as consultant to former Health Secretary Garin from May 2015 to June 2016.

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During our interview over nationwide DZRH, I showed the PAO Chief two successive headlines of the Inquirer last week, citing that as dengue cases rise, the Palace is “open to Dengvaxia use.” The headline the day after cited “Docs, Scientists Urge Lifting of Dengvaxia Ban.”  Atty. Acosta admitted that the medical world is currently divided over its use, with the document allegedly certifying its use by the World Health Organization never having been presented to the public.

“Where is that paper certifying the WHO approval,?” The feisty PAO Chief asked.  She also cited an 11-page report by the vaccine manufacturer, Sanofi,  that declared four dengue cases that have increased in severity.

On the other hand, Atty., Acosta claimed that her office had autopsied some 143 cases of deaths from dengue after use of the vaccine. She also pointed out that there are 34 civil cases as well as 44 criminal cases against former Health Chief and now Rep. Janet Garin.  The PAO Chief also stressed that just as there are those who support use of Dengvaxia in the current epidemic involving dengue, there are just as many medics who are against the vaccine and experts who have issued position papers vs. Dengvaxia.

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Recall that there was indeed a lot of controversy swirling around the use of this vaccine imported from the French pharmaceutical company Sanofi during the administration of former President Noynoy Aquino---forcing his administration to withhold use of the vaccine. Apparently, until now  the local medical profession still appears to be divided over this issue.

Thus, it would be a good  move on the part of the Duterte administration to seek the World Health Organization’s recommendations before deciding on whether or not to use the Dengvaxia vaccine anew in its campaign to curb the dengue upsurge especially in this rainy season.

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Just as the Health sector is divided over the Dengvaxia issue, apparently the politicians are just as divided over it.  While fomer Health Secretary Janet Garin is already a member of the House of Representatives, having won in the recent elections in Iloilo, and may be expected to push for the Dengvaccia vaccine's use, senators like Richard Gordon and Vicente Sotto are said to be against bringing it back to public use. 

I submit that the best way to settle this issue---and ease up the extreme anxiety that parents across the nation are suffering  owing to the  reported dengue epidemic brewing---is to hold a congressional hearing on this very vital issue.

Senators Dick Gordon and Tito Sotto should bring it upon themselves to conduct an extensive hearing on the suitability of the Dengvaxia vaccine for cure of dengue---calling on authorities on both sides, as it involves the lives of perhaps thousands of Filipinos. The earlier the better and no holds barred.


Friday, July 26, 2019

Mayweather tipped off Pacquiao to punch Thurman in body, enabling him to win handily. But far from being just helpful, Mayweather obviously aspires for another bout with Pacquiao, who now commands bigger bucks. But there's also clamor for Manny to retire now---as a champ and as age creeps on him. Confusion over China's status in WPS caused by PH regional accents--is China in "possession" or "position?" Confusion could bring us to unwanted war.

In a recent FB post I opined that our champ Manny Pacquiao ought to retire already while he's on top of the world, inasmuch as  continued fights endanger him as age catches up. Nothing would be more heartbreaking for Manny's adoring compatriots than his fall from his pedestal. This stance that I raised in FB got so many favorable reactions---all expressing the same feeling for our champ: hang up your gloves while you're ahead. .

But what's this story about US champ Floyd Mayweather watching the Pacquiao fight vs. Keith Thurman, and how he passed on a  suggestion to our champ in the midst of that fight. Mayweather's message: hit Thurman in the body---which Manny did, sending his foe reeling to the floor. 
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The question among Manny's fans: why did Mayweather offer him that unsolicited advice to hit Thurman in the body? The answer: to disable Thurman, so that thereafter, Mayweather gets to fight our Pinoy champ. Mayweather defeated Manny a few years ago, but  perhaps because Manny is now in tip-top shape, Mayweather feels that if  he could defeat the Pinoy champ NOW,  his own stock would rise further. More mega-bucks. 

Fighting our champ and possibly defeating him is a master strategy for Mayweather---but Filipino fans would not relish this as they know Manny is getting older and such fight would only endanger his legend. Better to retire undefeated than to crumble to the floor as an over-aged boxer who didn't know that his time was up. Manny Pacquiao shouldn't fall for wily Mayweather's trickery. He should retire while he's ahead, and the fact that many Facebook fans share this feeling is a good weather-vane of public opinion.

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President Duterte tackled a lot of nitty-gritty in his Fourth SONA last Monday in what he termed "the period of consequence" of what should have been done but was not.  His nearly two-hours speech---delivered quite late as he was almost two hours delayed in arriving by chopper at the Batasan grounds---sounded more like a rambling fireside chat rather than the grand State of the Nation Address of the Chief Executive. But after three SONAs, we have gotten used to presidential eccentricities, his thick diction and mumble, and folksy jokes which his Batasan audience lapped up.

On the West Philippine Sea issue, the President was quite candid in admitting that he preferred to negotiate the problems we have with China diplomatically, as he did not want to make "more widows and orphans of our soldiers' families." "We have to temper (this issue) with reality," he was quoted as saying, insisting, however, that "national honor and integrity will be recognized."

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Interestingly, the President does not seem eager to expound on this issue at the moment, as he probably realizes that there seems no clear solution at the moment;  hence, he'd rather leave the verbal tussles over the WPS to Justice Antonio Carpio, former Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario and former Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales in one corner, vs. his spokesperson and legal adviser, Salvador Panelo (who came in an embroidered jacket that he told this admiring writer was "from Paris") and his loyal political allies.

To show how muddled the China issue could get, I had a big laugh to myself when the day after the SONA, administration officials were debating about the Philippine "position" on China while some members of Congress actually were denouncing that big bully country's "possession" of parts of the West Philippine Sea.  Uttered by various speakers with heavy, mainly Visayan, ethnicity, these two vital words in the national debate on China---"position" vs. "possession"---for a moment looked like dreary potentials for war.

Baka makipag-barilan tayo sa Tsina dahil sa ethnic mispronunciations:  China's "possession" of the WPS, when actually what is meant is its "position" on the conflicted waters?

(Next: the bishops' uproar over proposed revival of the death penalty,  Duterte's mulling of a proposed "Overseas Filipinos Commission" and his laying the burden of un-bundling traffic on the mayors, atbp.)