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.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

The Grinch that’s stealing our Christmas: the Aquino regime’s Dengvaxia. A truly sad story about how politics corrupts even the most sensitive of issues: the people’s health. Amendments should be made to insulate crucial health regulatory agencies truly independent of the DOH, so that similar nightmare won’t visit us again

Photo from Philippine Daily Inquirer showing former Health Secretary Janette Garin administering Dengvaxia vaccine shot on a school girl.

Christmas is the most beautiful season of the year and its observance in the Philippines is acknowledged the longest in the world. But political developments recently exposed by ongoing Senate Blue Ribbon Committee hearings tend to steal Christmas from the hearts of many Filipinos who are depressed about those hearings.   

The Grinch that’s stealing our Christmas refers to the ramifications of the scandalous P3.5 billion that the past Aquino administration paid to a major world pharmaceutical companies, the Sanofi Pasteur---for the purchase of the Dengvaxia vaccine against the dengue mosquito that’s endemic to our country.


The Dengvacia vaccine is endangering the lives of tens of thousands of Filipino schoolchildren who have been inoculated with it. Of the 731,000 schoolchildren vaccinated, at last count nearly a thousand young students fell sick over five months after receiving the first of three doses. 30 of these cases were considered serious enough for hospitalization, and at least four deaths have already been recorded.

But just as serious, the Dengvaxia deal has also made us the laughing stock of the international pharmaceutical world, as we try to collect P3.5 billion in tax-payers’ money from Sanofi Pasteur---a lawsuit that we know would take an awful lot of money to win in an international court.  We also  know very well that international sympathy will not be with us on this case.

Why? Because we entered into the contract with Sanofi in a rush, without the due diligence needed to study such a delicate health issue, and obviously with another aim in mind---the political angle.  The almost inevitable conclusion is that the Liberal Party, then in power, was rushing to raise kickback funds to help finance its campaign for the May 2016 elections.


The entire science community in this country, except those affiliated with the Department of Health, is appalled at the lack of due diligence,  the rush to contract with the vaccine maker and the subversion of procedures defined by law. The worried Filipino public, in trying to fully understanding what happened in this monumental fiasco, is likely to suspect--- as do a good number of senators in the Senate Blue Ribbon committee--- that efforts were directed toward raising funds for the national elections of  May 2016.

Dr. Anthony Dans of the National Academy of Science and Technology, recently testifying before the Blue Ribbon Committee, made a very good suggestion that goes straight into the heart of the problem of the Dengvaxia anomaly.  Dr. Dans was quoted in the Inquirer as suggesting the enactment of “legislation that would set how ‘science should be assessed’ and ‘deal with the separation (of the) people assessing science and (the) people rendering policy.”


In other words, Dr. Dans was saying that the decision-makers in the DOH---those who decide to buy the vaccine--- should respect the scientists who are trained for many years and often in renowned institutions abroad, to assess its safeness and efficacy. These are, mainly, the Food & Drug Administration (FDA), which was created from the former Bureau of Food & Drugs in 2008, and the Philippine National Drug Formulary (PNDF) which decides the scientific basis for procurement of drug products, under Administrative Order No. 8 issued in 2006.

What happened in the case of Dengvaxia and Sanofi, Dr. Dans told the committee, “was BAD SCIENCE” (underscoring mine)---the policy makers overruled the scientists.  Dans cited as “victims” of this “bad science” the WHO, the DOH, the physicians who ended up prescribing the medicines and the patients on the receiving end. 


The chronology of events as compiled by CNN Philippines encourages the conclusion of wrong use of power by the Health Department headed by Secretary Janette Garin and inevitable collusion among certain agencies of DOH---the corrupt for the fund of it and the uncorrupt because they were overruled and scared for their tenure.

In November 2014  President Aquino met with the Sanofi Senior VP in the Asia Region, Jean Luc Lowinski, at the Philippine Embassy in Beijing. In June 2015 Secretary Garin negotiates with Sanofi to reduce the cost of the vaccine.  In October 2015, Sanofi applies at the DOH for inclusion of its vaccine in the Philippine National Formulary. So far so good.

By December 1, 2015, in the sidelines of the UN Conference on Climate Change in Paris, Aquino and Garin met Sanofi officials in the French capital where they were treated royally.  Nine days later  Garin submits a proposal to the Budget Dept. to buy three million doses of Dengvaxia, and gives it marketing approval in our country 12 days later.

This made PH the first to license its use for the prevention of dengue in Asia.


The succeeding events came with rapidity and show where the corruption possibly came in. The FDA approves the drug for preventing diseases caused by all four dengue types, and on Dec. 28, 2015, the DOH-Family Health office submits a request to Garin to exempt Dengvaxia from being included in the Philippine National Formulary, which, in turn, exempted it from review by the Formulary Executive Council (FEC), THE HIGHEST OFFICE THAT DETERMINES WHICH DRUGS GO INTO THE NATIONAL LIST OF ALLOWED DRUGS IN PH.

A day later, the Budget Dept. issues a P3.5 billion Special Allotment Release Order (the controversial SARO of old again rears its ugly head here) to Garin’s office for the vaccines. The Philippine Children’s Medical Center makes a P3-billion purchase order for the vaccines WITHOUT  FEC APPROVAL. Garin  issues a Certificate of Exemption for the vaccines to be pilot-tested in NCR, Region III and IV-A with a big hoopla.


The rain on Garin's coming-out party came in March 2016 when WHO released a paper asserting that Dengvaxia “may be ineffective or may even increase that risk in those who are seronegative at the time of first vaccination.” WHO called for more studies, but Garin already issued a P3 billion disbursement voucher to PCMC to fund the purchase from Zuellig Pharma, its distributor. The vaccines were paid for by the government.
The government kicked off its immunization program in three doses, one every six months. But the WHO released another paper stressing that Dengvaxi “may act as a silent natural infection that primes seronegative vaccines to experience a secondary-like infection upon their first exposure to dengue virus.” 


As CNN pointed out, WHO stressed that the vaccine “may be ineffective or may theoretically even increase future risk of hospitalization or severe dengue illness in those who are seronegative at the time of the first vaccination, regardless of age.” Another warning from the Imperial College of London's study which asserted that Dengvaxia could lead to an increase in number of cases of the disease, if not implemented correctly.

The Singapore Health Sciences Authority also piped in with “postulated risk” of the Sanofi vaccine. Factors were now conspiring to stop Dengvaxia in its tracks.


That month new Health Secretary Paulynn Ubial of the Duterte administration suspended the school-based immunization program and both chambers of the new Congress conducted their own probe of the anomalous transaction. Secretary Francisco Duque, who took over from Ubial, sustained the suspension,

The hearings on Dengvaxia will continue. Former President Aquino, in answer to summons, testified that no one advised him against procuring Dengvaxia (in other words, walang alam). A P3.5 billion outlay for imported vaccine and he is unaware of it? Secretary Duque pinned the blame entirely on his predecessor, Janette Garin.

I totally agree with Sen. J. V. Ejercito: those responsible for the bloody mess should be charged asap---with P-Noy and Garin possibly with technical malversation. The Grinches.

Friday, December 8, 2017

Duterte at Kapampangan Festival---refraining from cursing, he won audience’s hearts for his deep concern for young Filipino lives being savaged by drugs. Manotoc-Manglapus wedding overshadowed by the prominent grandfathers/political protagonists--Marcos & Manglapus

President Duterte in "Kapampangan Festival" with Rep. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo
Paoay newly-weds Mike Manotoc and the former Carina Manglapus, with baby Mia
Two lolos, erstwhile political rivals, dominate the wedding of their grandchildren 52 years later.
\The late Sen. Raul Manglapus, Ferdinand Marcos' rival in 1965 presidential elections; now their grandchildren are married. 

Former President and now Pampanga 2nd district Representative Gloria Macapagal Arroyo invited me to the “Kapampangan Festival” held yesterday, Dec. 07, at the Clark ASEAN Convention Center in Pampanga, for a fabulous culinary experience as only the Kapampangans can render. In celebration of the Foundation Day of Pampanga, chefs and restaurateurs from the CULINARYA PAMPANGA got together to prove to the visitors from various places that Pampanga is indeed the CULINARY CAPITAL OF THE PHILIPPINES. 

Yesterday's banquet of the best dishes of Pampanga was a total experience, complete with Pampango music rendered by a chorale group in beautiful native outfits and an exhibit of ethnic tapestries made from recycled materials.  
But the piece de resistance was President Rodrigo Duterte who came at 6pm. when he was scheduled to arrive at 3pm. Despite his tardiness several hundred Pampango natives and out-of-towners waited---to see and hear him in person, and they were not disappointed. That included this writer who, I must confess, has not been a Duterte believer.


The President was not his usual fire-breathing, cursing self;  instead, he spoke, it seems, straight from the heart, at times tearful and emotional---{“hindi naman ako talagang palamura.”)  I listened intently to his every word and in fact, after his speech my dzRH radio partner, Cecile Alvarez, and I sought to break through the PSG cordon on the stage, and we got through to him after jostling through the thick crowd of fans.

I told Mr. Duterte that I have not been a believer of his, but that “tonight, you spoke from the heart and it hit me right here,” I said, pointing to my own.  He looked pleased, probably chancing upon  my critical writings from time to time, and he took my hand for a mano-po.

Former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, who has been Mr. Duterte’s No. 1 patron and whom he addresses as “my boss,” was visibly elated over the success of his appearance at Clark ASEAN.


Discarding his prepared speech, Mr. Duterte extemporized in reasonably good English with a thick Visayan accent, about how “my people” ---soldiers and police--- are being ambushed at the rate of six to eight a day.  Getting emotional, he stressed that “I will hound (the enemies of state)---they can do their worst, threatening me;”  then he added, “I hold it as an article of faith that if there is no law and order in the countryside there can be no real peace.”

Before leaving that topic, he called on his former professor, NDF leader Jose Ma. Sison: “Why don’t you come home, para kayong mga seƱorito dyan (in the Netherlands).” He also stressed that he will stick “to my promise---no corruption---you better believe it, to my dying day.”


But Mr. Duterte reserved his utmost passion for his fixation: fighting the drug problem. He pledged to finish his war against drugs, stressing that he doesn’t give a damn “kung magka lache-leche ang bayan,” but he will clear the country of drugs. He avowed that “You (the drug lords) are reducing a number of my countrymen to the slavery of drugs,” stressing that he has already lost some 244 policemen in the drug fight that has “contaminated” 42% of our barangays. Then his stunning revelation:  9,000 police are also said to be involved in drugs.

As a parting shot, Mr. Duterte solemnly intoned to the crowd---so hushed that one could hear a pin drop—that he will fight this problem with all he has got.  Afterwards the audience rose to its feet to applaud him. It is obvious that he is so serious about this problem that he won’t budge an inch in this fight. 

It’s also obvious that had he not begun to tackle this menace by the horns, we would already be a narco-state by now. Like him or not, we ought to all be with him in this particular battle.


The wedding a few weeks back of Michael Ferdinand Manotoc and Carina Amelia Manglapus in a plush ceremony in Paoay, Ilocos Norte---grandchildren of two former political protagonists---was billed as a remake of the story of two feuding political families of Verona in Shakespeare’s immortal story of “Romeo and Juliet,” which saw the Capulet and the Montague families torn apart by feuds of generations.  But unlike the tragic tale in Verona where the lovers end up in the other life, the Paoay story has a happy ending.  

Michael Ferdinand Manotoc, the second of three sons of Irene Marcos Manotoc and husband Tommy, married Carina Amelia Manglapus, daughter of Francis and Lynn Manglapus, at the Spanish baroque church of San Agustin in Paoay. The couple has a beautiful 1 ½ year old daughter, Mia. 


There are many interesting facts about the union of Michael and Carina Amelia, whose acquaintance began some years back at a party given by Gina and Gabby Lopez of ABS-CBN. For one, the wedded couple are second cousins, their beauteous grandmothers---Carmen La”O Manotoc and Pacita La’O Manglapus, now both deceased---were sisters.

But the stranger part of the union of the two clans was how the respective pater familias---both long gone---still managed to overshadowed the recent grand wedding in Paoay.  I refer to the late President Ferdinand Edralin Marcos, Mike Manotoc’s grandfather, and the late Senator Raul Sevilla Manglapus, Carina’s grandfather, who were contemporaries---and famous political adversaries. Marcos turned 100 this year while Manglapus’ 100th is next year.


Young as I was when these two politicians were at the apex of their careers, I I remember joining many thousands of other young people to attend the rally in Plaza Miranda of Senator Raul Manglapus, then running in the three-cornered presidential race that included re-electionist President Diosdado Macapagal and then Senate President Marcos. Marcos gained notoriety in his UP  days for being accused of murder of a political adversary,  as well as fame for topping the bar.

On the other hand, Manglapus was known as the champion collegiate orator at the Ateneo where he graduated summa cum laude. Marcos was a war hero, but  most of his medals were alleged to have been spurious, as researched by the late Rep. Boni Gillego;  whereas Manglapus was awarded one medal but it was real.


From the start of their political careers,  Marcos was the practical politician, seemingly willing to do anything (guns goons and gold) to gain power, while  Manglapus was a principled politician, a dreamer who advocated democratic reforms and often ended up losing. Marcos topped the 1959 senatorial elections, while Manglapus topped the 1961 senatorial elections.

Marcos believed in an authoritarian form of government for development whereas Manglapus believed in a decentralized democratic government. Marcos was accused of having amassed an incredible fortune while in power while Manglapus lost most of his wealth in politics, particularly during his years in exile in the US with his family.  

Imee Marcos Manotoc was quoted as saying that the Paoay wedding could presage the “unification of the two clans,” and indeed, the wedding party did look like fun, with Raul Manglapus' son, Francis, bussing the late dictator's wife, Imelda, after the ceremony. On the other hand, Bongbong Marcos was caught by the cameras shedding tears of joy at the union. 

But I have my doubts about Imee's "unification" prophesy, for the historical differences have run too deep in both clans.  

Monday, December 4, 2017

Ultimately, CJ Sereno's impeachment will rise or fall on these crucial questions: did her actions constitute "HIGH CRIMES" and "Culpable Violation of the Constitution?" Does the "alphabet soup" of RCAO a.k.a. JDO and Sereno's taking business-class trips abroad constitute impeachable offenses?

Dean Ma. Soledad Derequito Mawis of Lyceum College of Law and President of the Philippine Association of Law Schools
Figures of the hour: House justice committee chair Reynaldo Umali & Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno

House veterans suspect that the impeachment case vs. Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno would be put to a vote before the Christmas recess and trial will commence in the Senate in January. .As it approaches, tension in the House has begun to rise to boiling point.  

At the recent hearing of the Committee on Justice on CJ's  impeachment case, Rep. Edcel Lagman of Albay, after much behind-the-scenes negotiations, was allowed to sit in the hearing, but not to interpellate the witnesses or participate actively. The grizzled legislator and legal luminary later complained in a statement to the media:   

“ After denying the Chief Justice’s right to have her counsel cross-examine the complainant (lawyer Larry Gadon) and his witnesses, and further barring representatives who are non-members of the committee from participating in its deliberations---which is contrary to established parliamentary practice---the Chair and Super-majority members are now actively monopolizing the proceedings in the so-called “impeachment committee.' ”


Rep. Lagman further stressed that the role of the House Committee on Justice is “to weigh the evidence, NOT TO GATHER EVIDENCE to plug the gaping loopholes in the Gadon impeachment complaint against (CJ) Sereno.” (emphasis mine). He noted further that Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez has tasked the justice committee to “continue gathering evidence because the Chief Justice refuses to resign.”

Lagman found this practice highly questionable, for as he pointed out, "the committee’s duty is to determine probable cause principally based on the complaint and evidence adduced by Gadon---and not to build up the case for Gadon."  Lagman reminded his colleagues that  “THE COMMITTEE MUST ACT AS AN IMPARTIAL INVESTIGATOR, NOT AS AN INTREPID SLEUTH” (emphasis this blogger’s). ’

Thus, continued Lagman, "while Gadon is grinning at the sidelines, the committee members are the ones requesting for the appearance of invited witnesses to whom they instantly direct questions, instead of allowing Gadon to first initiate direct examination.” As Lagman pointed out, the accuser sits contentedly in the sidelines as the members of Congress dig up evidence for him. In other words, sinusuerte si Larry Gadon. 


This tendency of the justice committee to seek evidences to support the impeachment case brought by private lawyer Gadon against CJ Sereno is only one of the many peculiarities of this sensational case now pending in the House. 

Recall that the impeachment case brought against Chief Justice Corona by the House justice committee six years back  NEVER HAD A HEARING; instead, it was voted upon right away by the House membership and went straight to the Senate for trial.  The singular argument against CJ Corona, which was totally unfounded, was a defective SALN.

But as then Civil Service Commission Chair Francisco Duque had stressed to the Senate impeachment court, a defective SALN cannot be the basis for impeachment as this could be rectified. But as we know now, the CSC Chair’s admonition went unheeded as DAP funds went into operation to buy impeachment votes against CJ Corona.


Unlike the Corona case, the case against CJ Sereno is undergoing hearings on accusations against her, but effort seems to be more concerned about substantiating the very thin accusations that complainant Gadon raised before the justice committee. As Rep. Lagman noted, that committee seems engaged "in filling the blanks for the complainant."

To shed further light on the Sereno impeachment case now being deliberated in the House justice committee, my radio partner Cecile Alvarez and I invited to our Sunday, 6 pm. DZRH radio program, “Radyo Balintataw,” Atty. Ma. Soledad Dereguito Mawis, UP College of Law, class '88 and now Dean of the Lyceum University College of Law and current president of the Philippine Association of Law Schools (PALS), which is composed of some 120 member schools all over the country.


We questioned Dean Sol Mawis what to her appears as the basis for the impeachment of the Chief Justice that the House justice committee has been plotting. The lady dean noted, for instance,  the obvious dissension within the Sereno Supreme Court---beginning with Associate Justice Teresita de Castro’s testimony on alleged decisions of the CJ to depart from the consensus of the court on certain issues. 

For instance, Dean Mawis pointed out that the court had earlier passed a resolution creating the Regional Court Administrator's Office (RCAO).  The intention was to decentralize court administration functions over judges, with  RCAO  supposed to be based in Cebu for Region 7's easier administration. 

What happened was that CJ Sereno created instead a new office called the Judiciary Decentralized Office (JDO), with essentially the same function---virtually the same dog but with a different collar. It didn't sit well with her colleagues and Sereno has since rescinded that plan and the court reverted to RCAO. 

This particular controversy within the High Court, which I call the "alphabet soup issue," only shows the deep divisions and rifts within the court. But I wonder if this issue constitutes a "high crime" as envisioned by the Constitution framers. 


Pursuing this issue, we questioned Dean Mawis for the basis of the contemplated impeachment of CJ Sereno. She cited, among other things as stated in the Constitution, high crimes committed and culpable violation of the Constitution. Then she went into specifics, such as the accusation by Gadon et al. that Sereno would take business class with her staff whenever she would travel abroad. 

Dean Mawis pointed out that the charge against Sereno on this issue probably stems from an earlier ruling by President Duterte that all government officials and employees from hereon are to ride economy class on trips abroad. Mawis stressed, however, that this order comes from the Executive branch, but since  under the Constitution the three branches of government are co-equal, therefore Mr. Duterte's order cannot apply to the judicial branch. Frankly, I myself don't mind seeing my country's Chief Justice ride business-class as a recognition of her high stature, especially since virtually all the legislators take business-class abroad. . 

Ultimately, the issue of impeachment has to answer the questions: Do the CJ's actions involve High Crimes and has there been Culpable Violations of the Constitution? I don't think so and neither does Atty. Sol Mawis.