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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.

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

The appointment of VP Leni as ICAD co-chair has become the nation's great telenovela, with all its ups and downs, tears, fears and challenges. But for the sake of our country's youths, let's demand that our top two officials unite in this fight vs. drugs, and let's help them all we can.

President Duterte and Vice President Robredo in happier times

The appointment of Vice President Leni Robredo as co-chair of the Inter-Agency Committee on Anti-Illegal Drugs (ICAD) has taken a number of twists and turns---promising to be the great telenovela the nation has been anticipating since President Duterte issued her appointment to this crucial post earlier this month. 

 Recall that a few weeks back, the President---to the utter surprise of the nation---appointed Leni Robredo as "Drug Czar," with the accompanying promise that her post would be endowed with a Cabinet rank. The nation was elated, as mukhang nagbati na ang dalawang pinakamataas na opisyales. The next thing for us citizens to do was to pray that the appointment goes smoothly, and all would work well against this most serious menace especially among our youth. VP Leni seemed happy with her appointment.

Subsequently, however, the picture became more and more disturbed and disturbing. First, Leni was not going to be the  DRUG CZARINA (I prefer to call her in the feminine form), but merely co-chair with the chief of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA), Aaron Aquino. If that demotion affected her, she gave no indication as she went on with her reconstituted job, after conferring with the PDEA Chief. 

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Then came a series of what the Palace considers Leni's "blunders," or what President Duterte's debonair spokesman, Sal Panelo, termed "miss-steps." in the drug war. Leni was quoted by the press as requesting for the list of drug-users, including high-priority ones--- the high-rollers as they are called in the lingo. 

The Palace, however, refused to grant Leni's request. But why not? If this is a real fight vs. drugs, you'd want the big-time boys reined in? Leni's request was deadma-ed. Why?  

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Eventually, an explanation surfaced: Leni is with the political opposition LP,  and no one knows what she'll do with the list of drug high-rollers in the administration's possession. Thus, the list had to be withheld from her. VP Leni continued to insist on getting access to what Secretary Panelo referred to as "classified information"---but no success. 

Whoever advised this move, however, was most stupid. Because this list was verboten, it sort of confirmed in the mind of many folks---rightly or wrongly---that the high-rollers are indeed in the administration. Speculations then flew fast and thick. 

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There were other "missteps"|which truly irked the Palace. Leni began consulting US Embassy officials on the drug situation as well as local and international sources. This is a must for Leni as Anti-Drug Czarina, as everyone knows that the drug war is fought on so many war-fronts all over the world with their own linkages.

Besides, some of the anti-drug battles the world over are successful, but many are not. There are lessons to be learned, and mistakes to be studied and avoided. Various nations really work hand in hand in the worldwide problem against powerful international drug syndicates.

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 Leni's conference  with US Embassy officials and other foreign agencies, however, did not sit well with the Duterte administration.  Hence came the axe:  she was stripped of her post as Anti-Drug Czarina as well as her promised Cabinet rank which was never attained from the beginning. As Palace Spokesperson Salvador Panelo stressed to media: "Trust is earned. The missteps of the Vice President did not inspire confidence in the matter of keeping to oneself classified information."

This is a rather unfortunate position of the Palace, for what is most imperative is for the administration and its various agencies to unite vs. the huge drug menace that's already upon our society---and not place exaggerated importance on anything personal or the issue of  turf. 

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Various politicos, who have been watching the tug of war between the Palace and VP Leni have their own explanations and positions on this issue. Senators Panfilo Lacson, Franklin Drilon and Leila de Lima (the latter commenting from her jail) have all come out with the verdict:  the  Duterte administration wants Drug Czarina Leni to fail. 

As Sen. Lacson was quoted in media as saying: '(Leni) will not succeed because (she was) given a big responsibility without authority. How will (Leni) reconcile what she will do?"

It is a sad development that's happening: our officials are quarreling over how to handle the drug war when it's becoming--- like a wild forest fire in summer---already so tough to control and the drug syndicates are getting bolder and more aggressive. We should all unite, beginning with our officials, against this common menace in our midst, instead of bickering with one another.    

Friday, November 8, 2019

Now that Leni has accepted Duterte's challenge to be the drug czarina, she needs all the help, regardless of political color. PH cannot afford to be another Mexico, which, according to US authorities, may be on its way to being a "failed state" because of the drug war it appears to be losing.






In an earlier blog I had opposed the idea of Vice President Leni Robredo accepting the offer of President Duterte to become the co-chair of the "Inter-Agency Commitee on Anti-Illegal Drugs" (a job wherein I call her the "drug czarina" of the Philippines). I had earlier argued that given the culture of machismo here, especially prevailing in the Philippine National Police, it may be difficult even for a lawyer like Leni to be fully accepted by her underlings.

 There are other factors, such as the very porous borders of our country, that make it so easy to smuggle drugs here from various shores. In fact it is obvious that the very first thing a drug czar has to do is to SHUT DOWN WHAT SEEMS TO BE AN INEXHAUSTIBLE SUPPLY OF DRUGS INTO OUR SHORES).  Recall earlier reports about drugs (thought to be cocaine, among the highest-grade drugs) seemingly thrown into waters near various islands of our country, that manage to float to our shores. Whatever happened to those floated contraband captured in various provinces many months back?

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Many of our people have also wondered just how serious is the President in his offer of the drug management to the VP, given his macho orientation and the critical stance of her party as well as the VP herself on some issues that directly involve Mr. Duterte's administration.  Is he really and truly serious in harnessing Leni's services to save our country from the scourge of drugs?

Such doubts about the seriousness of the President's offer to the Vice President to run the administration's campaign vs. drugs and render it successful, however, became moot and academic a few days ago, when she accepted to be the Drug Czarina with Cabinet rank. Now that the VP is at its helm, it has become her responsibility to make sure that the administration's war on drugs  does not---and cannot--fail.  

Mercifully, there are outstanding cases of anti-drug campaign failures in other countries that are teaching our country and leaders the urgent need to unite and act together vs. the world-wide menace of drugs. 

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A recent most tragic event in Mexico City triggered worldwide focus on that central American country that seems to be seriously losing its battle vs. drugs. In fact, an editorial of the Editorial Board of the Chicago Tribune dated only last November 05, 2019, that recently circulated in the internet, had raised the question of whether  Mexico under President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has truly become a FAILED STATE (emphasis BOC's). 

The editorial came after a Mormon family travelling on a highway in northern Mexico ran into a most terrible attack that left nine people dead, six of them children, with seven other children injured and one minor reportedly missing. The horrible killings were believed traced to the failure of President Obrador's social program to alleviate poverty and eliminate the "root causes of cartel mayhem." 

The Chicago Tribune account also recalled the episode whereby hundreds of cartel gunmen laid siege to the city of Culiacan after Mexican security forces arrested the son of convicted cartel drug-lord Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman Loera. According to the account, the siege by the cartel lord's henchmen forced President Obrador to release the son of El Chapo, even as killings occurred in other areas. 

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What is obvious in the state of affairs in Mexico is that things had been left quite unchecked in its drug war, and this is something that we in the Philippines cannot afford to allow. The recent rapprochement between our top two political leaders is good in that their collective energies can be truly channeled toward fighting the drug war that is already very much upon us in this country, as Mr. Duterte has admitted. 

VP Leni Robredo, in accepting her role as drug czarina, has insisted on "a change in the metrics of the campaign against narcotics," as the Inquirer put it. This was taken to mean "counting not the dead but the lives improved." Leni was also quoted as saying that "the crackdown can be pursued with the same vigor, but within the rule of law."

This is fine and she is correct and reassuring here, as otherwise, sans the rule of law, it could become total anarchy. But as is happening in Mexico, it is also important to realize that the drug cartels recognize no borders and our shores are so porous. There are lurking in every corner of this archipelago unscrupulous elements who worship only money, never mind how they get it---even if it means smuggling drugs into our super-porous borders. We cannot be complacent---Digong's and Leni's fight vs. drugs are also very much our own and that of our children. 

Sunday, October 6, 2019

When you read about what a number of PMA cadets did to Cadet Darwin Dormitorio, you cannot but campaign for hazing to be declared a heinous crime. Write to your congressman and the senators to pass this law asap, before more of our youth are subjected to violence and even death again.





As one exposed to military life, having married a military man, I should be rather inured to all the brutalities that have been happened in our elite military school, the Philippine Military Academy, through the years. I must confess, however, that after reading the editorial of the Philippine Daily Inquirer dated Friday, Oct. 4, 2019, I remain in deep shock over the brutality of what Cadet Darwin Dormitorio underwent over several days last month---that ended his life.

I enjoin all the peace-loving citizens of this country to reject this kind of brutality in PMA and other educational institutions in the country where hazing had taken place in the past. But more importantly---to put the fear of punishment, let's ensure that hazing will soon be deemed by Congress  a HEINOUS CRIME. 

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 Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez---prompted by the tragic fate that had befallen his constituent whose father was himself a graduate of PMA Class 1974---has filed a bill in the House of Representatives declaring hazing as a heinous crime. I can imagine that the entire Filipino people are cheering this speedy action on Rep. Rodriguez's part and it's now up to the Senate to transform this bill into law.

Our clamor for severe penalty for hazing, in order to avert its rearing its ugly head once again in PMA and in other campuses around the country, looks quite encouraging. At the Kapihan sa Maynila last week, Sen. Miguel Zubiri, who also hails from Mindanao like the PMA hazing victim, promised to do everything to speed up action in the Senate to declare hazing a heinous crime.

By a fortunate twist of fate,  I ran into Senate President Vicente "Tito" Sotto III at the 80th birthday celebration of former Sen. Francisco "Kit" Tatad last week and I lost no time in requesting him to pass the Rodriguez bill in the Senate. The Senate President readily said that he would get this bill moving. Sen. Dick Gordon, a friend of mine from way back, was also at that party and he promised to help move this bill too in the Senate.

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For all you readers out there who may not have read the October 4, 2019 editorial of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, allow me to reproduce here that portion culled from the Baguio City police report on the hazing of PMA Cadet Dormitorio.  Pls. read it so that you may also be moved to campaign to banish hazing from our schools forever and protect our youths from butalization---a fate that had tragically befallen on sons of my friends, namely Lenny Villa of Ateneo Law School and Horatio Castillo of the UST Law School.

I quote portions of the PDI editorial, based in turn from the report of the Baguio police and other accounts.

"...starting in August, the 20-year old was, among other things, punched and kicked for more than 20 minutes during which he fell down a number of times, hit in the face causing a severe nosebleed, almost asphyxiated with thick plastic sprayed with rubbing alcohol pressed on his face, with his hands tied hind his nape and his upper body and legs held firmly to keep him motionless on the floor;  kicked at leas five times on the right side of his body, while lying where he had fallen, kicked on the forehead and tasered on his genitals.

"At certain times he was ordered to report to his upperclassmen's quarters from which he emerged 'shivering and in pain' and at one point was observed unable to stand, 'noticeably in pain' and 'holding on to his stomach."

"Cadet Dormitorio was taken to the PMA Military Station Hospital four times, during which he was found with multiple soft-tissue hematoma and burns on his left shoulder, as well as respiratory tract infection and soft-tissue contusion in the chest. One one occasion he was diagnosed with urinary tract infection;  upon discharge, he was noted by his roommates as "weak" and "pale."

"Nearing the end he vomited a number of times. Yet, accusing of pretending to be ill...he was ordered to do squat thrusts the number of which he was unable to fulfill.

"Cadet Dormitorio's final night at Rm 209 was a lingering agony...(alternating) between fitful sleep and throwing up. He was seen at 3 am. 'sitting on the floor, his back and head resting against a study table.' At 3:20 am. a duty sentinel came by. Cadet Dormitorio's two roommates rose but he stayed on the floor unmoving. The sentinel ordered that he be awakened, to no avail. At 3:50 a.m. an ambulance came to take him to the PMA hospital where attempts to revive him proved futile...He was pronounced dead at 5:15 a.m. of Sept. 18..."

"...The upperclassmen responsible for the plebe's death...are detained and facing trial preparatory, it should be obvious, to life imprisonment..."

What was also deplorable was that, as Cadet Dormitorio's elder brother, Dexter, complained to the media, his family was not told of his worsening condition through those horrible days. They learned about it only after he had died. 

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In this dastardly episode, a precious life was lost and various other lives were destroyed forever, as the hazers would face life imprisonment. If you folks are convinced that this country of ours should ban hazing forever, please support the move in both Houses of Congress to declare hazing a HEINOUS CRIME. Nothing less would put the fear of God in the hearts of some of our young people who have been so inured to so much violence in our time. Write your congressman or senator now to DECLARE HAZING AS A HEINOUS CRIME. 

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Brutal hazing rears its ugly head again at PMA with death of Cadet Dormitorio. Remembering Atio Castillo's second death anniversary. A stiffer law needed to abolish physical brutalization that actually kill at frat initiation rites. Stiffer penalties should be leveled at frat leaders.


The issue currently rocking our country is the death through brutal hazing of PMA Cadet Darwin Dormitorio in the Philippine Military Academy in Baguio. As a result of the death of Cadet Dormitorio, all the top officials of the elite Philippine Military Academy were made to resign, subject to investigation and possible punishment.
A recent article by Romeo V. Poquiz that appeared in Facebook explains pretty much what happened and the rationale for this brutalization of initiation activities in a given organization.
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 I recall a short story we took up in our Humanities class at the UP decades ago about the use of force. In fact, its title is "The Use of Force" written by American author William Carlos Williams, which could illustrate what happens to normally good people who at some point begin to act with sadism, much like beasts. 

The story is about a doctor treating a young girl during a diphtheria outbreak, wherein he and he had to get a sample of her sputum. The girl was most rebellious and refused to cooperate, until finally the doctor had to force her mouth open with a spoon, to hold down her tongue, so he would be able to check her throat. It came to a point when in his subconscious, the doctor was already being most angry and brutal with his young patient---forgetting his primary aim, which was to diagnose the child's illness. 

The point of this short story is that brutality is in the innermost depths of the human being, which is why it has always to be checked and controlled. 
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This was probably what happened in the PMA grounds, during the initiation of cadet Dormitorio. The upper-class cadets, normally sober and sane people, lost control of themselves and the brutes in them surfaced and continued the brutality until---without their realizing it---they were already dealing cadet Dormitorio body blows that were to prove most deadly to his internal organs. 

This should be a case study for psychologists, as well as for  officials of the PMA, and for that matter, for all schools that undertake such hazing rites. Vigilance is a must in regulating initiation rituals and superiors must be present at all times. Above all, physical violence should be totally outlawed.  What an irony it would be if such brutal violence becomes the badge of acceptance, the honor code, of what's supposed to be the camaraderie of a lifetime---which is what a fraternity is meant to be!  
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Two years ago, another fine young man with a bright future, Horatio "Atio" Castillo , a student of the UST College of Law, also succumbed to initiation rituals in a secluded beach near Manila. He was mercilessly beaten with paddles by fellow frat men definitely under the influence of liquor--- until Atio's internal organs gave way, like those of Cadet Dormitorio of PMA. Atio was rushed to the hospital but it was too late. His parents, Toti and Minnie Castillo, are good friends of mine---very fine people---and they have not recovered from the pain of their loss. Who would, really?

I would think that the young men who conducted the initiation rituals on Atio were normally good and upright young men---but there is that sadistic tendency to use brutal force that seems to be perpetually lurking in the human psyche, that surfaces without warning, as the short story I mentioned above indicates.

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This is why supervision of all fraternity rituals is badly needed, and absence of such supervision should automatically call for the abolition of the fraternity and prosecution of its leaders and elders. All too often, because  there is not enough supervision from frat elders, most, if not all, the frat members conducting initiation rituals are under the influence of liquor and thus are no longer in command of their faculties and reason. 

I do not know why physical brutality---such as hitting Atio Castillo with paddles in his body and Darwin Dormitorio with brutal blows on his vital organs---is necessary as a badge of acceptance, when there are ways of initiation that are just as difficult, but not harmful physically. For instance, soon after Atio's passing, I wrote here about initiation rites that could be just as tough---and embarrassing---without harming the body, such as orating in Plaza Miranda on the ills of the country, in various states of deshabille, looking absolutely ridiculous. Or kneeling and proclaiming public adoration of a girl in the middle of the lobby at the Liberal Arts Bldg. in the UP at rush hour. 
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Several decades back, as I was entering the UP, it was rocked by the death of the scion of the prominent Albert family, also at the hands of upper-class fratmen. The fiery Rev. Fr. John P. Delaney, S.J., then chaplain of the UP Catholic community, led the fight against the abolition of brutal fraternity initiations and it became a national issue. 
But as evident in the Castillo and Dormitorio episodes, brutalization refuses to die. It surfaces again and again, and oftentimes these criminal episodes happen under the influence of drugs and alcohol---in some secluded place, without proper supervision from the elders of the fraternity.

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This is why physical hazing has to be abolished by law. Moreover,  under no circumstances must hazing of any kind be conducted without adequate supervision from the elders of the fraternity involved, or the consequence would be imprisonment not only of those who actually indulged in the violence, but of the fraternity leaders as well. 
Too many lives are being lost to this brutalization of the so-called "fraternities" that are the farthest from being fraternal, and that has no place in civilized society, such as ours pretends to be.

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.)

Saturday, July 6, 2019

As Inquirer headlined recently, foreign vessels have been poaching in our rich waters for marine resources, leaving our marginalized fishermen to fish in nearby shores. Over the years, vital AFP resources have been marshaled to combat communist insurgency and rebellion in the South. Result: a Philippine Coast Guard frightfully ill-equipped to handle piracy in PH waters.

One month after the "allision" between the Filipino fishing boat and the Chinese trawler in the West Philippine Sea, controversies continue to hound both sides. In fact the central issue---the right or the absence of it of the Chinese trawler to fish in PH's 370-km EEZ---continues to be debated. Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. raised the issue in the United Nations in New York City, but as the Chinese side put it, the allision happened as the Filipino fishing boat had no lights while parked in the sea.


Of course the fact of the Chinese boat fishing in PH waters was our  supervening argument, but this fact of the PH boat without lights puts us on the defensive and considerably weakens our claim for damages. This is a small detail but it should be a great lesson for Filipino fishing crew---you need perimeter lights around our boats if another collision is to be avoided at sea. 

The Philippine Coast Guard should be alert in enforcing proper safeguards on PH vessels such as ensuring their being well-lighted. The fact, however, is that many of our fishing boats come from marginalized regions in PH and are operating under-budget---so that perhaps perimeter lights would be the least of most Filipino  fishermen's concerns. But it has now become an absolute must.

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Still and all,  the central issue that continues to jar Filipino sensibilities---six weeks after the allision---is that the Chinese crew of the colliding trawler quickly abandoned the scene of the crime, and did not bother to help save the 22 Filipinos thrown in the sea.  The Chinese crew's excuse was that they were afraid of being mauled---given that, according to their spokesperson in that colliding boat, there were around five other Filipino boats in the vicinity of the allision. 

The implication is that because there were other Filipino boats in the area, the Chinese crew was afraid to come to the rescue of the imperilled Pinoys. This palusot cannot be credible, for if there were a good number of Filipino boats in the area, then there would have been no need to make a distress signal to a passing Vietnamese vessel. It was the Vietnamese boat that rescued our fisher folk, who struggled to survive for nearly four hours in the water. Thank God no one perished.

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But a bigger reality has surfaced, as bannered by the Inquirer yesterday, Friday, July 5, 2019. This is the fact that as PDI put it , "thousands of foreign fishing vessels encroach on Philippine waters and their activities, if left unchecked, could result in a devastating depletion of the country's marine resources." PDI published seismic maps in the West Philippine Sea over a three-year period in the Recto Bank in the Kalayaan Group and the Panatag Shoal, that showed whole areas shaded in red, indicating innumerable foreign vessels in the WPS.  

According to the PDI account, since April 2012, an average of 11, 261 foreign vessels have been invading those waters rich in marine resources and high-value fish in the WPS. The legitimate fear here is that if this continues unchecked, the Philippines stands to suffer from depletion of high-value marine resources and Filipino fishing communities would be deprived of meaningful livelihood. 

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I think that we all have exhausted this allision tragedy in our EEZ to the hilt and the thing is to learn some truly expensive lessons from it. Our fishing boats must be well equipped--- and lighted well enough, so as to avoid collision at sea, which could be most hazardous to the Pinoy crew.

Politically the sea accident has exhausted the adverse consequences to the Duterte administration. To many Filipinos, it was irritating to see  President Duterte sounding quite subservient to the Chinese powers. This perception actually commenced when he began allowing tens of thousands of undocumented Chinese to enter the country and compete with Filipino labor. In many people's perception, this seeming deference of Mr. Duterte to the Chinese---Premier Xi Jing Ping is his very good friend---has lost him quite a lot of political mileage, as far as his countrymen are concerned.

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Our country faces a terrible problem in our West Philippine Sea due to the seemingly unimpeded and limitless access of foreign vessels in our part of the world.  This was highlighted with the allision that happened last month when the Chinese trawler smashed into the smaller fishing boat operated by Filipinos in Recto Bank, and then scooted away without coming to the rescue of the Filipinos scattered in the sea. 

But as things turn out now, that allision accident was just the smaller problem. The bigger headache is how to enforce our sovereignty in our waters, to prevent the Chinese, Taiwanese and Vietnamese vessels from poaching in our waters and thereby seriously depleting our marine resources. 

The foreign encroachments of superior vessels of our wealthier neighbors have gravely affected the livelihood of our own fishermen, who cannot afford to go into deeper areas because of the lack of sophistication of their boats. In turn, this has serious impacted on the welfare of their fishing communities and ultimately on the country that's highly dependent on marine resources. 

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The biggest problem at the moment, however, is the fact that through the years, the Philippine Coast Guard---a vital enforcement organ of the Philippine Navy---which has the duty of protecting our seas from foreign encroachment, is the least developed of our various armed services. 

Over the many decades that our armed forces have been battling local insurgency as well as the secessionist movement in the South, it's the Philippine Army that has cornered the biggest chunk of  resource allocations. As a result of this, of the three major services, the Philippine Navy became the least endowed, despite the fact that we are an island nation.

 Now we see how this reality has crippled the Coast Guard that should have the sophisticated boats to drive away encroaching foreign fishing vessels---but which it doesn't have. 

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Tuesday, June 18, 2019

UST fratman Atio Castillo's senseless death finally gets some degree of justice from the court. Had the Chinese fishing boat helped rescue the Filipino fishermen whose stationary boat it had rammed, Phil-Chinese relations wouldn't have sunk this low.



When I first met the parents of UST fratman Horacio "Atio" Castillo III at the penthouse dinner given by art patronness Lyn Ilusorio some months back,  the pain in the eyes of Atio's mother was so palpable that I lost my taste for eating much. I just wanted to hold her hand or something. 

Two years ago, Carminia "Minnie" Castillo got a call from someone that her 22-year old son, who was undergoing a law fraternity's  initiation rites that day, had died at the Chinese General Hospital in Manila from a massive heart attack---induced by severe beating of his body with a paddle.  

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To help cheer up Minnie, a few months later I invited her and her  husband, Horacio Castillo Jr., to the concert of young classical violin virtuoso Joaquin "Chino" Gutierrez at the BDO Concert Hall in Makati.  They came and loved Chino's playing, but again I saw the pain in Minnie's eyes and her wan smile. Her husband appeared more stoic but doubtless was grieving as much. 

Today, perhaps Minnie feels a bit lighter in her heart as a member of the UST frat was sentenced by Judge Carolina Esguerra of the Manila Metropolitan Court from two to four years in prison for obstruction of justice, in misleading police investigation of the September 2017 fatal hazing of Atio Castillo.  The trial is not yet over, and I imagine that more suspects would fall into the clutches of the law. 

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I recall a similar episode that rocked the UP just before I entered it decades ago, with fiery Irish Jesuit Fr. John P. Delaney leading the fight against fraternity violence in the campus. A scion of the well-known Albert family had died from hazing and there was so much uproar that it finally reached Congress, which decided to outlaw hazing by passing R.A. No. 8049, the Anti-Hazing Law. Under this law, hazing is a non-bailable offense with a penalty of reclusion perpetua.  
But though it was already illegal, reports buzzed around various campuses about fraternity violence still lurking in dark corners of the country.  At one point, the Philippine Military Academy was also rocked by hazing.  
Recall that the US had been rocked by its own share of campus brutality in decades past. 
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Brutal initiation is obviously anchored on the belief that violence makes men out of boys, but I do not subscribe to that stupidity.  What brutal hazings succeed in doing is to transmogrify young men--- who are normally good and upright, but frequently under the influence of liquor and a twisted concept of manhood---into unrecognizable animals.   
I can understand the sense of belonging that fraternities and sororities  want to inculcate in their members;  but to dehumanize their neophytes and reduce them to brutes cannot be acceptable in, ironically enough, institutions of higher learning where men are taught nobler values in life. 
What Atio Castillo's death has taught us is that initiation rites should never brutalize frat candidates---they can be made to look silly, such as run around campus in their underware or deliver insane song-and dance acts in Plaza Miranda.  The sillier the better--- but NEVER  brutality, as this destroys body and spirit and turns young men into soulless animals.  
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When I recently read Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles term what happened in Recto Bank between a Chinese vessel and Filipino fishing boat "Gem-Vir 1" as an "allision" and not a "collision," I immediately ran to the "New Oxford Dictionary of English" that the late Sen. Blas Ople had gifted me one Christmas many years ago. I looked for that word and there was none. A helpful Facebook friend pointed out that the term "allision" is rather new and Merriam Webster defines it as a clash between a moving object and a stationary one. 
What took place in Philippine waters was indeed an "allision:" the Pinoy boat was STATIONARY while fishing, when the Chinese boat collided with it. President Duterte tried to make light of this calamity by referring to it as "a small maritime incident" even if the "allision" happened in Recto Bank, which is within our 300-km. exclusive economic zone (EEZ). 
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Indeed such incidents do happen on the high seas from time to time, but several things have to be pointed out in this particular episode, aside from the stationary status of the PH vessel. One is that it was fishing in PH waters clearly demarcated by the UN Arbitral Court in Geneva in July 2016. It was the Chinese vessel what was poaching in PH waters.
Second, and this is the graver sin of the Chinese vessel: granting that the ramming of the PH fishing boat was an accident---the Chinese vessel shouldn't have done a hit-and-run act.  Instead, it should have helped  rescue the Filipino fishing crew who were thrown into the waters by the crash impact. Accounts say the Pinoys were left in the water for three, some say even five hours. Thank God that a Vietnamese vessel rescued them, so that no one perished.
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President Duterte tried to make light of the episode and even hinted to Navy officers during a conference to simply regard it as a "small maritime incident." This is truly the tragedy about our island nation that's surrounded by water: it has a very lightweight Navy, thus provoking such reaction from Mr. Duterte.
What most Filipinos doubtless expected from the President was to pick up the phone and complain to his Chinese counterpart---who has become his good friend---about how Filipino fishermen were abandoned in the high seas after the "allision"--- and how they would have perished, had not a Vietnamese trawler responded to the SOS.  Mr. Duterte, usually very vocal about his sentiments, failed to inform his counterpart about the feelings of his people. 
Interestingly, the captain of the wrecked fishing boat, Junard Insigne, doubtless felt what many in our nation,  led by Vice President Leni Robredo, felt---that Filipino lives were nearly jeopardized right in their own fishing waters. According to the news, Insigne gave no indication that he'd honor the President's invitation for a chat in the Palace. The skipper should be given time to recover from the horrors his men suffered. 
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