"Dalawang gabi ko lang babasahin ito." - President Rodrigo Duterte

On the Dengvaxia debacle, Bro. Luistro betrayed his flock

BRO. Armin Luistro, the previous regime’s education secretary, is as much to blame as President Aquino and his health secretary, Janette Garin, for risking the health and even lives of over 800,000 Grade 4 pupils inoculated with the faulty Dengvaxia anti-dengue vaccine. Its manufacturer Sanofi itself last month admitted that its product could worsen those who had never been ill with dengue before.

While embracing the faulty Dengvaxia, Luistro in 2015 blocked a vaccination program to counter a much deadlier disease in the country, cervical cancer, which kills much more Filipinos than dengue.

On March 28, 2016, Luistro issued Memorandum No. 50, ordering that Dengvaxia be administered to “all Grade 4 learners, nine years old and above, currently enrolled in public elementary schools in the National Capital Region, Region III, and IV-A (Calabarzon).”

“Regional directors, school division superintendents, and other school officials are enjoined to provide full support in the conduct” of the mass vaccination program, the memo read.

The Department of Health (DoH) has no authority to order the education department to allow any kind of vaccination of the public-school students it supervises. It is the education secretary’s sole prerogative.

If Luistro had not ordered his department to undertake the Dengvaxia vaccination program, Garin would have had to rely on community health centers to implement it, which in the past had been extremely slow in undertaking such mass vaccination. Some 800,000 schoolchildren would not have been vaccinated so swiftly, probably just 80,000 and she and Aquino would not be able to justify to the public why 1 million doses of Dengvaxia were ordered costing P3 billion.

The trio responsible for the vaccine fiasco, although one could have committed another wrongdoing, blocking a program to fight cervical cancer.

A new administration – with a new health secretary – with no pecuniary interest in Dengvaxia that cost billions of pesos, would have suspended the program that was so rushed that it reeked, at best, of criminal negligence.

Using the religious images Luistro would be familiar with, he betrayed his flock, the students under his care as education secretary.

Astonishing support
Two things make Luistro’s support of the Dengvaxia program quite astonishing.

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Aquino’s Dengvaxia debacle: Criminal negligence or negligent crime?

WITH most of the details on President Benigno Aquino 3rd’s P3.5-billion mass injection program using the faulty Dengvaxia vaccine having been revealed in the two hearings in the Senate, we can only conclude either of two possibilities: that it was a stupendous case of criminal negligence or an execrably negligent crime.

Aquino claimed he had to act fast in the closing months of his presidency in order “to give a solution to the dengue problem,” of which Sanofi’s Dengvaxia appeared to be so. He added that he had made this move so that he could fulfill his promise to leave the country better off than before he became president.

If we believe Aquino, we have to conclude that his mass vaccination program was indubitably a case of criminal negligence of massive proportions.

How could Aquino have ordered P3 billion worth of a new vaccine untested for mass recipients—even breaking rules on bidding and the use of government funds without Congress’ approval—without asking other people, other experts other than his health secretary Janette Garin and the Sanofi people? For a P3.5 billion program that involved the departments of health, education and local governments, there wasn’t a single meeting of the Cabinet or of this cluster. (Didn’t his education secretary, Brother Luisito Armin, a member of the De la Salle Christian Brothers who had been president of De La Salle University, care about the children under his care enough to ask his university’s medical school about the safety of Dengvaxia?)

Rather than spending hours playing computer games, why didn’t Aquino simply google “Dengvaxia vaccine risks” in the period he ordered the purchase of 1 million doses of Dengvaxia in mid-December 2015 to the start of its injection in July 2016 to hundreds of thousands of Filipino childre?

If he had done so, he would have read the World Health Organization’s fact sheet posted in that period which categorically announced that Dengvaxia was not prequalified at that time (or to this day) by the WHO.

If he didn’t understand what he read, he could have easily googled “WHO prequalification.” He would have learned in seconds that a WHO-prequalified drug or vaccine means it meets standards of “quality, safety and efficacy.” If it isn’t “prequalified”, as is the case with Dengvaxia, then it may not be safe nor effective.

Aquino (right) and his budget secretary at the Senate hearing: Did he tell the truth?

If you were told that there’s this newly developed miracle drug that would make your child immune from pneumonia, but costs P50,000, wouldn’t you do some research and ask other people to find out if there’s no terrible side-effect to this medicine, or even check if the claims of its seller are true?

Wasn’t he curious enough that the Food and Drug Administration had not approved of Dengvaxia to be marketed in the country that he had to order it, through Garin, to do so in a rush?

Wasn’t Aquino curious that most of the members of the Philippine Formulary Executive Council – the body that approves what medicines and drugs the government can procure – didn’t want to give its imprimatur to Dengvaxia, and did so only after considerable pressure, and only for a one-year period and with six conditions? One of these was to Continue reading

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Senate should probe why Sanofi got Zuellig for Dengvaxia sale

WHY did the Dengvaxia manufacturer Sanofi get Zuellig Pharma to be the broker for its P3 billion sale of the faulty vaccine to the health department?

Did the then health undersecretary Dr. Kenneth Hartigan-Go, who had pushed for the Dengvaxia-based mass vaccination program, have a role in Zuellig’s designation as Sanofi’s broker and distributor?

Did Hartigan-Go have a hotline to President Benigno Aquino 3rd who rushed to get his administration to undertake the Dengvaxia mass vaccination before he stepped down from office in June 2016?

These are three questions the Senate’s blue ribbon committee investigating the diabolical Dengvaxia debacle should investigate to determine who is accountable for what the former health secretary Enrique Ona termed as a “major health nightmare in the country today.”

I would call Zuellig Pharma as the broker since the purchase order dated March 10, 2016 of the Philippine Children’s Medical Center—the health department unit designated for the transaction—for the P3 billion worth of Dengvaxia was not to Sanofi but to Zuellig Pharma.

But there was no need for Zuellig Pharma’s services as broker. It was government, in fact President Benigno Aquino 3rd himself, who negotiated with Sanofi for the deal that boosted the French firms’ troubled finances for its Dengvaxia business. Health Secretary Janette Garin even claimed that Aquino had negotiated a lower price for the vaccine.

Zuellig has become a huge distributor of drugs in the country because of the extensive network of doctors, hospitals and clinics that it has built up over many decades. But there was no need for its network for the sale and distribution of Dengvaxia.

Corruption by whom? Health undersecretary Hartigan-Go (center) with his former boss health secretary Garin (seated). Right, protest against Dengvaxia.

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Aquino may have condemned hundreds of thousands to severe dengue and Zika

FORMER President Aquino’s order to undertake a mass vaccination program using the faulty Dengvaxia vaccine just three months before he left office has put at risk some 830,000 Filipino children, to contract potentially severe dengue, and Zika fever as well, another mosquito-borne disease.

Dr. Scott Halstead, the leading figure in dengue research in the past 50 years and a former head of the US Army Medical Research and Development Command, had very sarcastically said of Sanofi’s Dengvaxia: “It’s happened. We have a vaccine that enhances dengue.” *

He was referring to microbiological studies that showed that those who hadn’t contracted dengue and who are then vaccinated with Dengvaxia were likely to suffer a more severe form of dengue if they should ever catch the virus.

Other researchers on the other hand had raised warnings that because of the genetic similarity of dengue with the Zika virus, Dengvaxia may also make such vaccinated persons prone to contracting the Zika disease.

While causing only mild symptoms, Zika could be transferred by a pregnant woman to her baby, resulting in brain malformations (such as abnormal smallness) and other birth defects. While Dengvaxia has been administered mostly to 830,000 fourth-grade children, any one of these children contracting Zika may infect adult women through certain types of mosquitos, not just the Aedes Aegypti that transmits dengue and Zika.

Aquino meeting with Sanofi execs December 2015, with Garin and Finance Secretary Purisima. Inset: Possible longterm consequences—more severe dengue illness and Zika that results in brain abnormalities.

Aquino’s horrendously faulty Dengvaxia mass vaccination therefore may have put at risk not only 830,000 Filipino children but, through Zika, a future generation of Filipinos who may have brain malformations and other birth defects.

All these warnings on Dengvaxia were issued by Continue reading

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Was Aquino’s P3.5B purchase of the dengue vaccine the worst case of corruption ever?

WAS there corruption on a massive scale, with former President Aquino 3rd earning hundreds of millions of pesos in dirty money from his administration’s purchase of Sanofi’s dengue vaccine Dengvaxia?

If indeed it was a case of corruption, it would be among the biggest ever for a single corrupt deal, as just 10 percent of the P3-billion cost of the one million dosages of the vaccine purchased—without any bidding and through secret negotiations—is P350 million. It could have been likely more, considering that Sanofi’s $70 million sale to the Aquino administration gave it the much needed financial and advertising boost for a vaccine it had developed at a cost of $1.8 billion, yet which it could sell only $20 million worth in two years of aggressive marketing.

But more than the magnitude of dirty money involved, this case of graft, if proven as such, would be the most abominable: The health and lives of 730,000 Filipino children were put at risk, just to rush the vaccine’s purchase before a new government would come to power.

Aquino with his health secretary Garin: Will she throw him under the bus to save her own skin?

President Duterte must leave no stone unturned to determine the answer to this question, if he is to be true to his promise to rid the country of corruption, and to get justice for 730,000 children.

He will be met by stiff resistance by the Yellow Cult, Already the most expensive campaign ever has been contracted and launched to use media for a massive cover-up of this ignominy. Just check the articles and opinion columns of the newspaper still in the Yellow Cult’s control.

I don’t think arriving at the truth will be so difficult: Aquino’s health secretary Janette Garin, who is from one of the most powerful political clans in Iloilo, would likely throw her former boss under the bus to save her own skin.

You, dear Reader, decide for yourself if Aquino got graft money or not from his dengue vaccination program. I will just narrate the facts.

Intense interest

First, Continue reading

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WHO never endorsed Aquino’s dengue vaccination program

It even violated guidelines
CONTRARY to the claims of former Health Secretary Janette Garin, the mass vaccination program ordered by former President Aquino was neither approved by the World Health Organization (WHO) nor did it comply with its guidelines.

This of course raises the question: Why did Aquino, with a few months left as President in early 2016, rush the P3.5 billion purchase of Sanofi’s imperfect anti-dengue vaccine Dengvaxia?

Garin in a message to her friend broadcast journalist Melo Acuña wrote: “We implemented the dengue vaccination program in accordance with WHO guidance and recommendations. Even before the official release of the SAGE report on Dengvaxia, there were ongoing meetings and consultations among experts, WHO and Department of Health (DoH) officials. We fully cooperated and consulted with WHO prior to the implementation of this program.”

Garin is lying through her teeth, sources in the DoH said. The sources claimed that there were only two or three meetings with WHO officials. The vaccination program threw into the dustbin practically all of the WHO’s guidelines on the use of Dengvaxia.

In the first place, the WHO in July 2015 had withheld its recommendations on Dengvaxia, pointing out that the “WHO Strategic Advisory Group of Experts (SAGE) on immunization is currently reviewing the evidence and will advise WHO (likely in April 2016) on recommended use of the dengue vaccine.”

Aquino order
Still though, Aquino ordered the DoH in December 2015 to procure 1 million units of the Dengvaxia vaccine, and got the budget department to issue the authorization for its P3.5 billion cost as it wasn’t in the department’s budget (and therefore hadn’t been approved by Congress).

In July 2016, the WHO, based on the SAGE’s reports, issued a position paper, which said that “countries should consider introduction of Dengvaxia only in geographic areas where epidemiological data indicate a high burden of disease.” By high burden, it meant infection by the dengue virus of 50 percent to 70 percent of the population.

WHO pointed out that the use of the Dengvaxia in persons not infected with the dengue virus “is not recommended because of low efficacy and potential longer-term risks of severe dengue.”

Photo opp of his P3.5 billion vaccination program. Oops, the vaccine is revealed as having a frightening downside.

It would only be more than a year later, last November 29, that Sanofi itself announced this downside of its own drug: “For those not previously infected by dengue virus, however, more cases of severe disease could occur following (Dengvaxia) vaccination upon a subsequent dengue infection.” In layman’s terms, if a person had not contracted dengue before and is vaccinated with Dengvaxia, he will likely suffer a severe form of dengue, which could even be fatal.

This view wasn’t even an exclusive finding of the WHO. A physician Jacqueline Jobonero-Espina emailed me:

“The first question we asked when there was word around that a vaccine against dengue was being developed was, ‘Will it protect against all 4 serotypes of the virus?” A clear answer was not given. We doctors are all aware that a reinfection of dengue would be a more severe one. An infection can be caused by any of the 4 serotypes of the dengue virus and an infection produces lifetime immunity against that particular serotype. Reinfection with other serotype causes a more severe condition, dengue hemorrhagic fever, as the initial infection only confers partial immunity to the other serotypes. So, when the vaccine was launched most of us did not include it in our routine immunization schedule.”

Compulsory
Aquino’s DoH though made it a practically compulsory immunization program, with the parents of the public-school children left in the dark as to what it was.

Instead of complying with the WHO guidelines, the health department undertook the vaccination of 730,000 mostly nine-year-olds in the National Capital Region, Central Luzon, and Region IV-A (Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, and Quezon), and targeted a total of 1 million. Dengue incidence in these areas though are far from the WHO’s classification of areas in which dengue infection is 50 to 70 percent of the population.

Nationally, in fact, dengue ranks only ninth among diseases most prevalent among Filipinos, making one wonder why the Aquino government chose to spend a huge P3.5 billion to address that disease when only a fraction of that amount has been devoted to counter more widespread diseases like respiratory infections and influenza.

While Central Luzon and Region IV-A have had high rates of dengue incidence, other regions have had much higher rates, notably the Davao provinces. Did the Aquino government think it could also use the vaccination program as an election tool for 2016?

A much worse crime of omission of the health department is that it did not move a finger to follow the WHO’s recommendation that Dengvaxia should be administered only to those who had already contracted dengue before.

The DoH’s guidelines for the vaccination program (still posted in its website) make no mention of this crucial requirement for vaccination, and lists only four kinds of people who may not receive the vaccine: those less than 9 years old and above 45; those who are allergic to the vaccine; immune-compromised individuals such as those with HIV; and pregnant or breastfeeding women.

4 serotypes
In its FAQ section, it had the question: “If the pupil had past dengue infection, can he still avail of the vaccine?” The DoH’s reply: “Yes. Dengue disease is caused by 4 serotypes. Natural infection caused by one of the 4 serotypes confers lifelong immunity from that specific serotype but not from the other serotypes. Dengue vaccination can still provide protection against dengue disease from the other serotypes.” There was not a word on the WHO’s warnings that the vaccine should be administered in fact only to those who have had the dengue disease before.

How many of the 730,000 children were administered the Dengvaxia vaccine even if they had not contracted the disease, and therefore at high risk of getting a severe, even fatal bout of dengue if ever they catch the disease?

Using DoH statistics that dengue incidence in the country is 54 per 100,000 population, only 395 of them had the dengue fever before. That means 729,605 children were administered the Aquino-ordered vaccine for whom the WHO had advised against, and which puts them at risk of contracting severe dengue in the future.

If the P3.5 billion purchase of this problematic Dengvaxia is proven to be tainted with corruption, it would be the worst case of graft in our history, in which every concern for the health of the country’s children was thrown into the dustbin.

Filed under: Manila Times Columns

Aquino ordered health secretary to buy the P3.5-B defective dengue vaccine

It was former President Benigno Aquino 3rd who ordered his Health Secretary then, Jannete Garin, to purchase P3.5 billion worth of the French firm Sanofi Pasteur’s controversial anti-dengue vaccine Dengvaxia, sources in the government disclosed. He also ordered his Budget Secretary Florencio Abad to look for, and release, the P3.5 billion funding for it, as the health department didn’t have such allocation in its 2016 budget.

Garin herself had hesitated to order the vaccines in 2015 because it still didn’t have clearances from reputable medical bodies, including the World Health Organization. Even her officials very strongly advised her against it.

The Philippines is the only country to undertake a mass immunization program using the Dengvaxia vaccine – involving 700,000 grade-four students during the last three months of the Aquino regime, with a total of 1 million planned. Although Mexican and Brazilian authorities have licensed the sale of the vaccine, they haven’t launched such mass, effectively compulsory, vaccination using the Dengvaxia vaccine.

President Duterte’s then Health Secretary Paulyn Ubial put the Dengvaxia program on hold in July, on grounds that it had not been proven safe yet.

The company itself, though, issued a warning on its own vaccine Nov. 29, reporting that it found out that if Dengvaxia “is given to individuals who haven’t been exposed to dengue, they could get more serious infections when they encounter the virus naturally.”

That means that if a child had never been exposed to, or sick with, dengue but he was inoculated with the Dengvaxia, and he then contracts the mosquito-borne illness, he would be worse off, and could even face death. Most of the 700,000 children inoculated with Dengvaxia had never had dengue. Some 700,000 Filipino children, therefore, now have the potentially deadly serum in their blood. Already, four children who had been inoculated with Dengvaxia and who caught dengue had reportedly died.

The former President meets twice with drug company officials that sold the P3.5 billion of potentially deadly antidengue vaccine.

Even before it’s alarming findings, Sanofi had recommended the vaccine to be used only in populations among whom at least 50 percent have contracted the dengue disease. Dengue has been prevalent only in a few areas in the country, with total incidence of only 0.01 percent of the total Philippine population.

WHO report
The World Health Organization, the UN authority on the safety of drugs, had not approved the vaccine. It finally reported in July 2016 that countries should consider the introduction of the dengue vaccine “only in geographic settings (national or subnational) where epidemiological data indicate a high burden of the disease.”

“There’s no way for Garin to get Budget Secretary Florencio Abad to release government funds to P3.5 billion in a month’s time to buy a single type of vaccine, one that was not approved by reputable local and international bodies, and bought from one company,” a government source said. The health departments’total budget annually for all vaccines it buys is about P3 billion, he pointed out. The source quipped: “How much is 10 percent of P3.5 billion?”

Aquino’s P3.5 billion ($70 million) purchase of Sanofi’s Dengvaxia – P3,000 for the three-doses required for each recipient – was a life-saver of sorts for the French firm. It spent $1.5 billion in 20 years to develop the vaccine, but had sold only $21 million, with the Philippines’ $70 million purchase giving it a financial boost, as well as the worldwide advertisement for it. Sanofi was racing against time, given that at least four other anti-dengue vaccines are being developed by competitors.

Aquino’s order to buy the Dengvaxia vaccines was given right after his December 1, 2015 meeting with top Sanofi officials, who included its CEO Olivier Charmeil in Paris, during a three-day visit there to attend the United Nations’ Climate Change Conference.

“I want this fast-tracked please,” Aquino reportedly told Garin as he stared intently at her, in hearing distance of Cabinet members who accompanied him and of the Sanofi officials, referring to the French firm’s lobbying for the purchase of the Dengvaxia vaccines. With Aquino in that meeting, aside from Garin, were finance secretary Cesar Purisima, Trade and Industry Gregory Domingo, Transportation Secretary Joseph Abaya, and officials of the Philippine embassy in Paris.

A press release by the Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO) on that meeting reported: “Aquino had a business meeting on Tuesday with officials of Sanofi Pasteur for the introduction of a dengue vaccine in the Philippines as the French pharmaceutical company moves toward completing the clinical trials for the vaccine….”

Malacañang for Sanofi
The Malacañang statement was practically a press release for Sanofi’s product, gushing: “The vaccine had completed phase 3 (advanced, pre-product launch) clinical studies in 2014” and that it passed research phases in the Philippines, reflecting high levels of research competence and capability.” As it turned out, though, the World Health Organization had not cleared the vaccine, and clinical trials were still ongoing at that time.

Strangely, when Congress started investigating the controversy, Garin in effect claimed that Aquino’s information officials were lying: “It was not a meeting between Sanofi and President Aquino (but) the usual time where [sic]the president will allow himself to face the business community. The dengue vaccine issue was not discussed.”

Aquino had demonstrated extraordinary interest in the health department’s purchase of the Dengvaxia vaccine: It was the second time he met with the Sanofi officials.

He found time during the hectic APEC meeting in Beijing, China to meet with Sanofi officials, headed by the firm’s senior vice president for Asia Jean-luc Lowinski on Nov 9, 2014. The Sanofi officials were the only businessmen Aquino met with in Beijing. A press release by the Presidential Broadcast Staff reported at that time that Aquino discussed “Sanofi’s progress in developing a dengue vaccine for affected towns in the Philippines.”

Senator Richard Gordon, chairman of the Blue Ribbon Committee, when he was investigating the controversy last year pointed out the suspicious Dengvaxia purchase: “December 2, there was a meeting in Paris (between Aquino and the Sanofi executives); by December 22, the Food and Drug Administration approved the vaccine; by December 29, the Special Allotment Release Order for P3.5 billion was issued.” Talk of a midnight deal.

Gordon added: “The vaccine purchase was never budgeted by the health department in 2014, 2015, 2016 and also in 2017. They only requested it in November of 2015. The budget department found the money by declaring ‘savings’ from personnel salaries.”

This dengue vaccine corruption is of that sickening Yellow template: A noble cause is used to conceal graft of mammoth proportions. This case, though, could be the worst, as it has put the lives of our 700,000 mostly poor children on the line.

Filed under: Manila Times Columns

Sereno has been Aquino’s and the Yellows’ abomination

LOURDES Sereno as the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court has been former President Aquino 3rd and his Cojuangco clan’s abomination, their worst insult to, and the most injurious damage they inflicted on, the Republic, the judiciary, and the legal profession.

She should be removed from the Supreme Court swiftly and decisively in order to restore the dignity of the Supreme Court and the integrity of the Republic’s institutions.

Her appointment as head of the high tribunal has been a glaring, shameful anomaly in our Republic that has been crying out to be corrected. After Sereno, people just shrugged off Aquino’s appointment of two other justices with as little qualifications as she.

Our republican system stands on the pillars of the principle of the rule of law and the Constitution. It is the Supreme Court that has the main task among the three branches of government for defending and strengthening these foundations.

 

Sereno’s fans, then and now.

Yet Aquino appointed in 2012 to head the Supreme Court a mediocre legal academic who had never even seen the insides of a Philippine courtroom. By any standard or stretch of imagination, she doesn’t have the qualifications to be Chief Justice of the Supreme Court or even associate justice – or even judge of a municipal trial court.

25 allegations

Even worse, according to the twenty-five* allegations filed in Congress for which she is allegedly liable for impeachment, she has had a penchant for trampling to the ground the rules and procedures of the high court, for acting as a despot and refusing to consult with her colleagues, and lying through her teeth to them.

Sereno quarreled with her colleagues. She ignored them in the administration of the justice system. She ordered for her personal use, without court approval, a bullet-proof Toyota Land Cruiser worth P8 million; she falsified court documents to cover up orders she alone made; and she traveled first-class and stayed in five-star hotels, charged to the court, against government rules. She also shamelessly asked Muntinlupa judges not to issue arrest warrants against former justice secretary and suspected drug-coddler Sen. Leila de Lima.

Such behavior isn’t really surprising. Her sole claim to being a successful lawyer was when her mentor, the 77-year-old retired Justice Florentino Feliciano took her in as his legal researcher in the NAIA Terminal 3 case brought against the Republic by the German contractor Fraport before the International Center for the Settlement of Investment Disputes.

For that, she earned a whopping P37 million in fees, an astronomical amount, which constituted the biggest earnings of her entire career that she admitted allowed her to buy her house and several cars. Those fees, paid by us taxpayers, were ruled to have been “excessive and illegal” by the Mandaluyong regional trial court.

But one would probably call subsequent events a case of poetic justice, or karma. Among the allegations in the impeachment complaint against her is that she didn’t declare that P37 million income in her statement of assets, liabilities, and net worth (SALN). That allegation has been bolstered by the report of the University of the Philippines to which she should have submitted her SALNs that it anomalously doesn’t have these documents which should have contained her declarations of her P37 million earnings

Stupid thing

Why did Aquino do such a stupid thing to foist such an abomination that is Sereno on our nation?

Aquino placed Sereno in the high court a month after he assumed office. Her assigned role was to convince the members of the Supreme Court to agree to at least P5 billion compensation for Hacienda Luisita’s Cojuangco owners. A majority of the justices ignored Sereno’s kilometric arguments that made her seem like the Cojuangcos’ lawyer. The court in its November 2011 decision ruled that the Cojuangcos should be paid only P196 million.

The next month, impeachment charges were filed on the most flimsy charges against the then Chief Justice Renato Corona who championed the government’s position, apparently to browbeat him and the court into complying with the Cojuangco clan’s wishes.

After Corona was removed, Aquino appointed Sereno as Chief Justice in 2012 in the stupid hope that with that post she could reverse the court’s November 2011decision. The majority of the justices stood their ground though, affirming the court’s Hacienda Luisita decision with finality.

It was Aquino and the Yellow Cult’s in-your-face insult to the nation and to the country’s legal profession, its supreme demonstration that it could do whatever it wanted. A principled person, or one with the nation’s interest foremost, or one who doesn’t have delusions of her worth, would have declined Aquino’s appointment, content that she had defied all odds to be in the Supreme Court already.

If this case had happened elsewhere – and it hasn’t – there would have been a revolution.

That there is no outrage against Sereno is another illustration of the power of media in this country. The Yellow-controlled media of that period which helped lynch Chief Justice Corona, were so servile to Aquino that it raised his appointee Sereno’s image to a pedestal that bordered on the absurd.

Excellent choice

For instance, the Philippine Daily Inquirer, Aquino’s main propaganda arm at the time, had her appointment as its banner headline: “Excellent Choice.” It gushed over Sereno as “The Chosen One” and that Aquino’s appointment of her was a “bold tradition-breaking choice.” Her utter deficit in qualifications was buried by hosannas that she was the first female Chief Justice of the country, and the second youngest.

Yet even with Aquino no longer in power, Sereno has been getting sympathetic coverage from the mainstream press.

Retired Justice Arturo Brion in his Manila Bulletin column pointed this out: “The chief justice has been all over the media in an apparent multi-media blitz. I saw her twice on TV last week and the news media are writing about her. (That an active campaign is under way is obvious from the similarly written articles in several newspapers.) ‘Legal experts’ openly theorize in their columns that the impeachment complaint should be dismissed.”

I would think that such media support is due to the that fact she is the Yellows’ sole hope of having a believer in one of the four highest posts in the Republic for another 13 years. Aged 57 now, Sereno, if she doesn’t resign or isn’t kicked out, will be required to step down only in 2030.

With that kind of potential advantage, I would think the Yellows with the billions of pesos they amassed in corruption in the past regime, could throw hundreds of millions for her legal defense and for media.

*For the reader to better understand the impeachment, I have posted in this column’s website version the impeachment complaint and a matrix of the allegations.

Impeachment complaint

Filed under: Manila Times Columns

The Plaza Miranda bombing, how Ninoy escaped it, and other secrets of the Communist Party

(I wrote the following piece published December 10, 2010 when I was still with the Philippine Daily Inquirer. With President Duterte’s declaration that he has ended peace talks with, and will wipe out, the communist insurgents, this column published seven years ago, seems to be more relevant today. The book described here is reportedly on its third printing, and is available at local book stores and as an e-book at Amazon.com.)

DR. MARIO Miclat’s “Secrets of the Eighteen Mansions: A Novel” (Manila: Anvil Publishing, 2010) reveals in rich detail many of the covert factors that contributed to the growth of one of our country’s biggest problems—the Communist Party of the Philippines.

The “18 mansions” of the title refer to the buildings in a secret compound in Beijing where the Chinese Communist Party in the 1960s and 1970s housed delegations of communist parties all over the world to facilitate its clandestine aid to their insurgencies.

Mansion No. 7 housed the living quarters and offices in Beijing of the delegation from the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) founded and led by Jose Ma. Sison, aka Amado Guerrero.

 

Miclat was a member of the CPP delegation who, with his family, lived and worked in that mansion starting in 1971. He returned to the Philippines in 1986, totally disillusioned with the party, which he says was a monster he “helped create, yet which devoured” him. He has since become an academic with a PhD and is at present dean of the Asian Center at the University of the Philippines.

Miclat’s is not a fictional novel, but a personal and political memoir of his nearly two decades as one of Sison’s earliest recruits, even living for two years in the leader’s “underground” house as his editor and translator, and then as a cadre in the party cell in Beijing. Many of the persons in the book are identified by their real names, others are thinly veiled, while a few are named only by their aliases, probably in order for Miclat to write more freely or to spare these persons from embarrassment.

Cover of book written by an insider; inset, communist leader Sison, its main topic.

For instance, “Herz” was one of Sison’s key operatives, who supervised the party’s youth organizations in the crucial years of the early 1970s, the era of student power that led thousands of idealistic teenagers to communism, wrecked lives and, for many, death in some lopsided firefight.

Herz now lives a very comfortable bourgeois life in Canada, even as his Filipino community newspaper continues to rant against the Philippine government and paint the country black.

Herz’s superior, “Goldie,” who recruited Miclat to the party and who, he claims, ordered the killing of a suspected, but unlikely, military agent was Monico Atienza, head of the party’s organization department during that period. After being comatose for months, Atienza died in 2007 after many years of living alone, despondent and destitute, on a meager UP assistant instructor’s salary.

Sison, a womanizer
Secrets’ secrets range from the personal to the political. For instance, the book claims that despite the rigors of running a revolution, Sison had the time to womanize, go on dates to nightclubs, and bear an illegitimate daughter.

In a scene straight out of a soap opera, Miclat and New People’s Army chief “Kumander Dante” (Bernabe Buscayno) were shocked to see Sison’s wife pound “at the leader’s back with her fists even as she cried about her husband’s indiscretion.”

This might seem trivial today—after all, we had a President who boasted of his womanizing. But womanizing has been a capital offense in the “revolution” for dogmatic and practical reasons, punishable by death, or assignment to hazardous guerrilla frontlines. After witnessing that conjugal spat, Dante “cried like a little boy,” and between sobs asked Sison rhetorically: “How many good comrades have we condemned to die because of sexual opportunism?” I hope Dante will e-mail me to confirm or deny if this really happened.

What is not secret at all to those who have studied the insurgency, but which Miclat provides more details of, is that the Chinese government provided funds and arms to the CPP at its crucial embryonic stage. (A similar account was published in this newspaper on March 25, 2005 by Ricardo Malay, who headed the CPP cell later.) A courier was even arrested in 1974 by the US Federal Bureau of Investigation for carrying undeclared $75,000 intended for the CPP as she was exiting from Canada where she got the funds from the Chinese Embassy there.

As regards arms shipments, Deng Xiaoping himself was so incensed over his Filipino comrades’ incompetence. The first shipment on the MV Karagatan in 1971 was easily intercepted by the military and most of the 1,200 smuggled M14 rifles were thrown overboard. In 1974, the MV Andrea, also financed by the Chinese, didn’t even reach the Philippines as it ran aground on a sandbar, which was not unexpected as it was captained by a seasick-prone student activist who just got a crash course on seafaring.

Plaza Miranda bombing
The most earth-shaking secret in this book involves the bombing of the Liberal Party rally at Plaza Miranda on August 21, 1971, the most crucial man-made event that formed the contours of our history since it happened.

Miclat asserts with total certitude that it was Sison’s plot, and that he learned of this days after the bombing. He quotes Sison as saying before the attack: “We will force Marcos to declare martial law… People will rise up in arms when he finally shows his fascist face.” Two ranking comrades in Beijing knew of the attack beforehand. Miclat quotes “Peter,” one of Sison’s closest operatives, as telling him in October 1971: “Ninoy Aquino did not go to Plaza Miranda on the night of the bombing. Kumander Pusa phoned him.”

That it was Sison’s project has already been claimed by credible figures, such as the late Sen. Jovito Salonga and journalist Gregg Jones in his book Red Revolution. For Miclat, however, the attack seems to have left a deep wound in his heart. Before leaving for China two weeks before the bombing, he says he was asked to keep two grenades, which he was later convinced were the ones used in the carnage.

He could have dedicated his book to so many other people close to him. Instead he dedicates it “To an unidentified boy whose life was cut short by a terrorist bomb in Plaza Miranda, August 21, 1971.”

Filed under: Manila Times Columns

Sison and delusional communists are demanding what the Republic can never give

PRESIDENT Duterte’s decision to end all peace talks with the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), its New People’s Army and its dummy organization, the National Democratic Front, dismantles the illusion, propagated not just by the communists but also by the president’s negotiators, that the peace talks are proceeding well, that peace is at hand.

Finally, it has taken a tough, no-nonsense president to call for an end to this now criminal organization, deluded that it can establish a one-party dictatorship in our country by killing our soldiers and police to submission. The communists’ armed attacks against the Republic have been one of the biggest factors blocking our nation’s prosperity.

Its ideologue and chief propagandist Jose Ma. Sison, now 78, has been in the Netherlands since 1987, or for 30 years, more than three times the nine years he spent in actual revolutionary practice in the Philippines. No wonder this demagogue and his followers are so totally out of touch with the situation in our country and the world, so as to preposterously demand a “coalition government,” a 1940s Maoist idea during the Chinese revolution, that is, joint sharing of power with the Republic.

Ever since peace talks were undertaken 30 years ago, the communists have been making impossible demands on government for them to lay down their arms.

If Duterte—or any other President—agrees to the communists’ demand, he will be impeached, since by doing so he is committing to the communists what isn’t his to commit: For the independent Congress to repeal or pass certain laws, according to the communists’ wishes.

The leader making revolution in the Netherlands, his home for 30 years already.

If by some miracle the government repeals the laws the communists want repealed, the result would be economic Armageddon for the country. This might even be what the communists want, since the country would be in such chaos as a result that it could grab power and establish its one-party dictatorship.

Delusional demands
Peruse some of the communists’ delusional demands in its negotiations with government, and you will be shocked, and even angry over why Duterte’s negotiators haven’t been revealing these to the public:

• The creation of a “new political authority”—a euphemism for the communists’ joint control of government—which will be empowered to implement the agreed-upon economic and social reforms;

• The recognition of and participation of the New People’s Army and its front organizations in the rural areas in the implementation of land reform;

• The total banning of all imports of agricultural and fish products;

• The repeal of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law (CARL), Investors Lease Act, Agriculture and Fisheries Modernization Act (AFMA), Fisheries Code, Mining Act, Indigenous People’s Rights Act (IPRA);

• The termination of all bilateral investment treaties and agreements, bilateral and regional free trade agreements (FTAs), and agreements under the multilateral World Trade Organization (WTO);

• The “dismantling of import-dependent and export-oriented” companies—which now assemble computer chips and other information-technology products that make up 40 percent of our exports;

• The repeal of the law on the automatic appropriation for the public portion of the foreign debt service;

• Prohibition on the ejectment of squatters until after they are provided “with housing and utilities, employment or livelihood, and social services in the area of resettlement”;

• Scrapping of the Electric Power Industry Reform Act (Epira);

• A ban on “advertisements and the airtime” that spread “colonial mentality, foreign worship, consumerism, and other similarly objectionable values”;

• The abolition of value-added taxes and excise taxes on basic goods and services;

• The institution of capital controls “to promote financial stability” and stabilize the peso’s international value; and

• The cancellation of foreign debts that are “onerous or fraudulent”.

Capital flight
In short, the communists are mainly demanding that government reverse nearly all of its economic reforms in the past several decades, as embodied in laws passed by more than a dozen Congresses.

It is astonishing that these communists like Sison and CPP chairman Benito Tiamzon, isolated from the country in Holland or in our godforsaken jungles for decades, see themselves as expert economists who know how an economy should be developed.

If the Duterte government agrees to undertake just one of these demands, the result would be a deadly blow to the country’s image of economic stability, which in turn would trigger such a total loss of confidence in our economy, resulting in massive capital flight.

These demands are contained in the so-called Comprehensive Agreement on Social and Economic Reforms (Caser) that it had submitted to government negotiators, and which Sison and his negotiators keep babbling about as if Duterte could just very easily okay it.

Our negotiators and the communists, even as they have been blabbering continuously about the “Caser,” have refused to release it to the public. I managed to get my copy only through my sources.

Our panel have fallen into the communists’ plot to portray the Caser as the embodiment of their noble agenda to undertake reforms that would uplift the country’s poor.

Secretary Jesus Dureza, the presidential adviser on the peace process, has even been trying to get government agencies to support the Caser, saying that “it will address the problems that lead to armed conflict—landlessness, poverty and inequality.”

Haven’t our negotiators been consulting with Duterte’s economic managers to find out what they think of such provisions in the Caser as the imposition of capital controls, and the scrapping of economic bilateral agreements? Or have they been spending too much time wining and dining with the communists, exchanging jokes with them in Norway and the Netherlands?

What is so shocking in the Caser is its Section 6 of Part VI: “This Agreement shall be binding upon the GRP and the NDFP and their respective successors. Any change in the form of the political structure, government and authority within the GRP shall not affect the validity and binding nature of this Agreement.”

Future Presidents
How can the communists demand that an agreement which Duterte would sign should be honored and implemented by all future presidents and by prime ministers, in case the country shifts to a parliamentary form of government?

What the communists are asking for is not what Duterte can give, nor even promise to give: For the Congress, which is an independent branch of government, to pass laws that would repeal what the communists don’t like and enact laws they think would further the revolution.

Read the Caser (email me if you want a copy) and if you’ve been a student of the communist movement (or a member, as I had been), you will see that it is entirely based on the view that Communist Party founder Jose Sison presented in 1968—plagiarized from the writings of Mao Zedong and Indonesian communist chief Aidit—that the Philippines is a “semi-colonial and semi-feudal” country.

In fact, the Caser openly claims that in entering into the agreement, the NDF is guided by the “Guide for Establishing the People’s Democratic Government and the Program for a People’s Democratic Revolution of the Communist Party of the Philippines.” Both documents were made in 1968 – or 40 years ago. For the communists, nothing at all has changed in the country’s economy, and Sison’s (or more accurately, Mao’s) godlike vision is still applicable to our country in this day and age.

And here’s what’s also shocking. Sison, who wrote the Caser, demands that it be signed first before the communists agree to a ceasefire. This is in the Caser’s Section 3, Article VI: “The Parties agree that, irrespective of the course and outcome of the peace negotiations, the provisions of this Agreement that uphold the economic, social and cultural rights of the people shall remain in force and in effect.”

Idiocy
What idiocy is this? The communists are demanding that Caser be signed as one of the conditions for them to agree to a peace pact. Yet, they are saying that even if the peace talks fall through—say, if the NPA decides to launch a full-scale attack on government forces— the Caser will remain in force?

Yet still another shocking provision in the Caser, in its very last section: Section 7. “To enhance and strengthen the legal and moral force and effect of this Agreement, the representatives of the governments hosting the formal negotiations as well as those of the UN Secretary General, the UN Economic and Social Council and the UN Commission on Human Rights shall sign this Agreement as witnesses upon the signing of the same by the negotiating panels of both Parties.”

What lunacy is this? The communists in effect are demanding that the government treats the Caser as an agreement between two states, as witnessed by the UN!

For making such impossible and even absurd demands, I suspect Sison and these septuagenarian communists in Utrecht are getting senile, and enjoying themselves with the fantasy that they have won the revolution, and are now outlining what their “coalition government” would be doing.

Or, they are so wily that the peace talks give their NPA the opportunity to strengthen itself, with the publicity making it more frightening that it will be easier for them to extort more money—reputedly P1.5 billion annually—from helpless businesses and landlords in our rural hinterlands,

Meanwhile, thousands of Filipinos in the country are getting killed yearly in their now irrelevant attempt at revolution.

Our nation really has no choice but to crush this terrorist organization, which has been pulling the country down as much as the drug lords.

Filed under: Manila Times Columns