Dengvaxia: corruption kills

No amount of explaining made by former President Benigno Simeon C. Aquino III and former DOH Secretary Janette Garin can erase the obvious fact that the P3.5 billion procurement of Dengvaxia vaccines that were later administered on 830,000 school children was rushed with amazing speed while disregarding potential hazards to those vaccinated.

Gordon and garin

No responsible government official would gamble on the health of its people with a drug — supposedly a miracle drug — that had yet to be proven efficacious, with no risks that could bring death, or serious illness, to beneficiaries. It is clear from the testimonies of Mr. Aquino, Dr. Garin and other officials during the two public hearings conducted by the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee that the Philippine government purchased Dengvaxia with a deadline to beat. The deadline wasn’t an epidemic in which every day that went by caused thousands of death; it was December 31, 2015 after which the funds they had set aside was going to revert to the public treasury.

We have heard the saying, “haste makes waste.” In this case, it became “haste is deadly.”
What makes it more painful for the Filipino people is that the deadly haste was motivated by insatiable greed. The officials who pushed this program through were fully aware of the objections raised by experts. And still they chose the color of money over the lives of innocent children.

There’s even no need to delve deep into the scientific issues about the drug’s efficacy. Just one look at how the procurement was undertaken is enough to prove the corruption. Among the cardinal principles of the government procurement law are transparency and competitiveness. And the law requires that any purchase must be included in the annual procurement plan of the agency. In addition, funds must have been appropriated for the purpose.

The timeline as revealed by Blue Ribbon chairman Senator Richard “Dick” Gordon shows that the entire procurement activity was shrouded in darkness and undue haste. Documents like the SARO (Special Allotment Release Order) from the Department of Budget and Management for the entire amount, the FDA certification and Formulary Exemption Council (FEC) exemption were issued as if these were just pieces of paper picked up from the shelves of a store, within a few days of each other. Those who transact with the FDA will tell you a certification even for vitamin supplements that are already being sold in the United States could take one to two years! In this case, the FDA certificate was issued in about nine months! And that’s for a drug that was yet not proven safe.

But the corruption now takes the backseat as an entire nation stews with anger over the potential health hazards posed by exposure to the vaccine. The manufacturer, Sanofi Pasteur, had issued an advisory warning that vaccinating children with Dengvaxia with no previous exposure to dengue could lead to more virulent strains of dengue. This has caused widespread fear and worry among families of the 830,000 children who were vaccinated with Dengvaxia. While no deaths have been reported as a direct result from Dengvaxia vaccination, the Sanofi advisory was enough to trigger an outrage never seen before.

The only sore point in this scandal was the pronouncement of President Rodrigo Duterte that he didn’t think Garin is culpable. What she did was done in good faith, Pres. Duterte said. With due respect, Mr. President, only a naive individual could possibly buy that theory. Garin is guilty as a principal in this grand conspiracy, along with Mr. Aquino, former DBM Secretary Butch Abad and other officials who made it happen.

Tell all on Dengvaxia, Dr. Janette Garin

Former DOH Secretary Janette Garin tried to inject a dose of dramatics into her scheduled appearance before the joint hearings of the Senate blue ribbon, finance, health and demographics committees this morning and testify on what transpired in the P3.5 billion purchase of Dengvaxia vaccines a little less than two years ago.Janette Garin

On Friday, Garin checked into a private hospital in Tacloban City after she supposedly felt acute abdominal pain. Her doctors diagnosed her as suffering from acute appendicitis, her chief of staff said. But Garin, whose husband Oscar Richard Jr. is the incumbent congressman of the 1st district of Iloilo, has asked her doctors to postpone surgery so she could attend the hearing.

It will be a tough morning for Garin at the Senate should she really attend despite her supposed condition. There is a storm of public condemnation against her and former President Noynoy Aquino over their rushed procurement and implementation of the vaccination program despite strong objections by experts. Several lies told by Garin have also been exposed. For instance, she denied having met with Sanofi Pasteur company officials when she visited Paris two years ago. She had to recant and admit it when ABS-CBN reported on a DFA dispatch detailing the meeting.

Emerging facts support insinuations that the transaction is bursting at the seams with corruption. My sources estimate that the kickbacks could run into more than a billion pesos, definitely making it one of the biggest single corruption cases in our history. But this corruption is only secondary to the possible health hazards from the administration of the vaccine on Filipino children from the age of 9 and up. This is already being described as an act of genocide.

Garin should confess to the truth. She should not blame ex-President Aquino because it is clear the transaction was hers. Aquino himself cannot completely wash his hands. He showed his incompetence and naivete in allowing politics to dictate on decisions even though there was sufficient warning on the adverse effects it might have on the children.

Deadly corruption

dengvaxiaCorruption is a criminal act. But how do you describe corruption that has the element of putting the lives of innocent Filipino children at great risk? That should definitely put the officials involved on the same level of Adolf Hitler, the Pol Pot, Radovan Karadzic and other ruthless figures in history who enjoyed killing people.

For me, this is the magnitude of the sins committed against the Filipino people by the Aquino administration, notably former DOH Secretary Janet Garin, in rushing the procurement of P3.5 billion in Dangvaxia vaccines and having it administered on about 730,000 school children.

There were already whispers about Dr. Garin waved aside the objections of medical experts just to make sure the transaction gets done, at a tremendous overprice, about two years ago. The prudent thing would really have to have waited at least six months to allow experts to declare it safe. Dr. Garin refused to wait; she wanted it done before the end of the Aquino administration.

Now there’s a public uproar over the Dengvaxia issue after Sanofi Pasteur, the manufacturer, divulged the results of its own studies that those injected with the vaccine without being previously infected with the deadly virus could be exposed to greater risks, and could even die.

What has also shocked many Filipinos is that Dr. Garin, whose husband Oscar Richard Jr. is chairman of the PDP-Laban for Iloilo, is now working as consultant to House Speaker Bebot Alvarez. Could the administration be coddling a potential criminal against Filipino children?

The Senate is conducting an investigation into the scandal next week. I hope it does dig out all the details regarding this corruption case that has the potential of genocide against our own children. The perpetrators should be locked up in jail without delay.

First step toward riches: Write it down

via Writing your way toward riches

My thoughts on the Fr. Boy Celis controversy

I listened to the radio interview of Fr. Boy Celis over Aksyon Radyo Iloilo this morning with anchorman Junjun Buyco Sornito. Fr. Celis explained that under Canon Law, he has the right to appeal his case because he is aggrieved.
He is aggrieved, he said, because he needs to finish what he has started for the St. Anne Parish Church in Molo, and his parishioners don’t want him to leave because he is the only priest who responds to requests for confession 24/7.
He believes the Archdiocese of Jaro should wait for Rome to rule on his appeal on his transfer to Barotac Nuevo, Iloilo.

Fr. Celis hangs on

Fr. Boy Celis explains his reasons for defying an order from the Archdiocese of Jaro reassigning him from Molo to Barotac Nuevo on Nov. 28. (Photo credit: The Daily Guardian)

I think Fr. Celis overstretched the meaning of the word “aggrieved” in his case.
This transfer involves a regular reshuffling of priests to other parishes, and does not involve him alone in which the grounds for transfer are unjust, oppressive or unfair.
No priest is anchored to any parish, and while parishioners might feel sad that their pastor whom they have learned to love is leaving them, it is not as if they are deprived of the spiritual services of a parish priest.
Every transfer is a fresh challenge, a fresh opportunity to spread the word of God through the ministry. Each priest cannot turn down a rightful and just order for reassignment.
I don’t see even a shadow of injustice as to cause Fr. Celis any grief. His reasons are flimsy and lack the grounds for Rome to overturn the decision.
Fr. Celis should realize that he doesn’t have a monopoly of dedication and passion in the service of God.

The ICC revisited: Drilon’s monument of corruption and plunder

It’s been more than 14 months since the private company that won the bid for the lease, operation and management of the Iloilo Convention Center in Mandurriao, Iloilo City began its operations in running the business. But the project is not yet finished, making it hard to fully utilize the facility as a convention center and generate enough profits for the operator.Front view

For one thing, the “fits-out” for the sliding walls that can turn the main hall into three smaller venue rooms has not been installed. Secondly, the parking lot in the back of the ICC wasn’t cemented; the surface is gravel, making it an ugly appurtenance to other otherwise impressive structure. Third, there is no sound-proofing for enhanced audio quality.

 

 

With more than P750 million already spent for the project, the ICC is just an overdecorated box of a building, unworthy to be called a convention center that its sponsor, Senator Franklin Drilon, had described as “world class”. As a result, the ICC is hardly drawing the conventions, and tens of thousands of visitors as projected by Drilon, to Iloilo City.

That the ICC was overpriced becomes more pronounced because it sits between two five-star hotels in the Iloilo Business Park: The 12-story Richmonde Hotel cost P500 million to build, complete with all the furnishings and The Courtyard by Marriot, with 15 floors of upscale hotel accommodations that cost P1.5 billion. The ICC is only two floors, with 99% empty space. The sum of P750 million wasn’t enough to finish the facility.

Worse, the ICC was leased to Premier Islands Management Corp. on March 11, 2016 for a total of P74,054,267 over a twenty-five (25) year period, or roughly P2,962,170.68 per year. Computed on a monthly basis, the rental paid by the operator is only P246,847.55. In the Senate Blue Ribbon investigation into the ICC on November 13, 2014, then DPWH Secretary Rogelio Singson said the total floor area of the ICC was 11,693.79 square meters. That makes the rental rate a dirt-cheap P21.10 per square meter a month!

How could the Tourism Infrastructure and Enterprise Zone Authority (TIEZA) least the ICC for so cheap a price?

According to TIEZA Assistant Chief Operating Officer (ACOO) Jetro Lozada, the agency was forced to review the cost paramaters of the ICC for purposes of establishing a feasible rental rate. Lozada admitted that TIEZA at first pegged the project valuation at the actual cost of P750 million, but several biddings resulted in failure. The minimum lease rental rate at that valuation put the ICC out of the ballpark in terms of feasibility among potential operators.

Then DOT Secretary Ramon Jimenez had a “eureka” idea to salvage the ICC’s marketability to lease and management operators: During a TIEZA board meeting on January 15, 2015, Jimenez said that his partner at the DPWH, Sec. Singson, had manifested that the agency was no longer interested in recovering its expenditures for the project. That’s a whooping P320 million that Singson, unilaterally, just wrote off without legal basis. That money came from the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) through the auspices of Drilon.

These circumstances are evidence that the Filipino taxpayers were defrauded not just once, but twice. The ICC was originally estimated to cost only P200 million. But Drilon succeeded in pumping air into the project cost until it would have reached P1 billion.  DPWH ultimately scrapped one or two more biddings for other components when it became hard-put to justify additional expenditures. This explains why the project is not 100% finished.

Indeed, DPWH could not justify more expenditures. In the Blue Ribbon hearing, Singson said DPWH was scrimping to be able to finish the project at below P750 million. He gave the figure of P747 million as the final project cost, 100% finished. But the cost had already become a run-away train, and TIEZA was forced to inaugurate the project in September 2015 in time for the APEC Ministerial Meeting.

These days, the ICC stands idly most of the time, empty. Events and conventions are far between, and the operator could only try to survive on the meager income it generates. Without the “fits-out” or the sliding divider and other missing components, the operator could not hope to book bigger conventions simultaneously in which the main hall could be turned into three separate venues.

And with no ceilings, no acoustics panels on the walls, the ICC is nothing more than an expensive warehouse. a concrete box that is already regarded as a monument of corruption.

 

 

Who set the drug convicts free in 1995?

I didn’t get to watch the entirety of yesterdays Senate inquiry into the killing of Kian de los Santos, but I read that Senator Franklin Drilon insinuated that Caloocan City Assistant City Prosecutor Darwin Cañete was involved in illegal drugs.
That was a below-the-belt blow that only a bully wearing the title “Senator” can deliver.
Perhaps it’s time the Senate also dug deep into the circumstances into the wholesale release from the National Bilibid Prisons of several dozens of drug convicts in the middle of 1995 by virtue of a writ of habeas corpus issued by a Muntinlupa City regional trial court judge.
There are many questions about the legality of that writ. For one thing, the petitions were filed in groups of tens or twenties, not individually. Second, they were already convicted, and the proper remedy to avail of the lower prison terms under the amended drug law wasn’t a petition for a writ of habeas corpus. Third, the judge who issued the writs had been investigated and sanctioned in the past for ignorance of the law and inappropriate behavior.
Now, we should be enlightened.
Who was the justice secretary in the preceding months of June 1995 when the writ was issued that then set nearly a hundred drug convicts free?
The petitions were filed six to eight months before the elections of 1995. Surely, the Department of Justice was aware of it, but didn’t object. In fact, the DOJ most likely facilitated the petitions because these were granted without delay.
This singular act of freeing drug convicts set in motion the establishment of a nationwide distribution network for illegal drugs.