• Mr. Unaware liable

    President Duterte may not push for the prosecution of Noynoy for the Dengvaxia mess  but based on the recent Senate inquiry the inescapable conclusion was that the former President, Benigno “Noyny” Aquino’s hand was all over the deal with French firm Sanofi Pasteur.
    It would not be easy for the public to let pass a deal involving P3.5 billion in government funds and in which the health of many Filipino children had been compromised.
    Noynoy, during his testimony, was all knowing at one time and totally “unaware” at another.
    He claimed being unaware of the past records of Sanofi, the reason for his approval of the P3.5-billion contract for the procurement of vaccines from Sanofi saying that he was confident the dengue vaccine Dengvaxia was safe for use.
    He then lectured on the processes undertaken by the US Food and Drug Administration on Dengvaxia saying that the drug went through five steps: discovery and development, preclinical research, clinical research, FDA review and post-market safety monitoring before getting approval.
    Noynoy said he was told that US FDA regulated international clinical trials. “Since it went through these processes, I was made to know that Dengvaxia was safe for humans,” he said.
    When asked if he knew of the string of cases of Sanofi in which the French firm was fined tens to hundreds of millions of dollars, Aquino said he was not aware of it. He was president. He had staff and researchers, and yet he claims he was unaware? Hard to buy his excuses.
    Sanofi in its dealings with foreign governments was embroiled in legal battles in which the firm was reportedly found guilty of committing offenses ranging from bribery, false claims, and birth defects caused by its drugs.
    Noynoy’s selective comprehension led Sen. Richard Gordon to ask him “without casting aspersion on your character, that when you meet with drug companies like this, I would imagine that it was no fault on your own (but were) you not briefed in China,” Gordon said.
    The first meeting of Aquino with Sanofi officials happened in November 2014 in Beijing during an Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) forum  meeting when the dengue vaccine was first discussed.
    This was followed by another meeting in Paris, France in December 1, 2015 at the sidelines of the Climate Change Conference where then Department of Health (DoH) Secretary Janette Garin was in attendance.
    Aquino said during those meetings, he was not informed of anything on the background of Sanofi.
    The bottomline was that Noynoy claimed he signed the lucrative deal with Sanofi despite the scant information he had on the French firm and since there was a crying need for a mass immunization of the anti-dengue vaccine.
    The need for a mass immunization was already debunked in the first hearing when Gordon extracted from Health Secretary Fancisco Duque that there was no epidemic of the dengue disease during the time the vaccine was administered.
    It was hard to believe, however, that Noynoy knew of the minute details in the certification of the Dengvaxia vaccine but he was “unaware” of the history of its manufacturer Sanofi.
    Clinging to his defense of being innocent of the Sanofi misdeals does not even absolve Noynoy since as President he was mandated to undertake due diligence on government contracts particularly in one which he was personally involved in.
    Sanofi was fined $61 million in the US for bribery case only last October, a similar case happened in China in 2007 and 2009 and also in the Middle East and African counties in 2007 to 2017.
    It was also involved in a false claims case in May 2009 in the US where the company was fined $95.5 million and another in December 212 where the penalty was $109 million.
    It was implicated in a bribery case in $39 million in Germany in 2013; a bribery case in Kenya in 2014; an alleged $30 million kickbacks scheme in September 2013; a $32.5 million false claims case in France in 2016 on a drug that alleged to have caused birth defects.
    Noynoy again used the defense of being fed with the wrong information that was employed as an alibi in the Special Action Force 44 debacle making his feigned innocence a bad habit to extricate himself from tight situations.

  • Black, red, yellow threats

    The overwhelming vote that Congress in a joint session gave President Duterte’s martial law extension proposal, more than anything else, provided the needed boost for security forces to get the job done in securing Mindanao from armed extremist threats.
    Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana during the Congress deliberation on the extension bid named a number of emerging Islamic State (IS)-inspired groups which are actively recruiting members in Mindanao.
    Two other interlinked problems which are the quick rehabilitation of Marawi City that was practically decimated during the five-month battle between government forces and the pro-IS groups and the New People’s Army (NPA) atrocities were cited as reasons for the extended martial law.
    The opponents of Rody kept harping on the constitutional requirement of an invasion or a rebellion to justify martial law and their conjured fears of human rights abuses in their effort to block the Palace which were all contrary to what was happening on the ground.
    It is the Mindanao legislators who are even solidly behind the extended martial law which debunks the claim of abuses from Rody’s yellow critics.
    Rody knows full well that the problem in Mindanao can be resolved the quickest way when the implementers have the full backing of the government institutions mainly Congress through the temporary removal of legal hurdles in running after the enemies of the state.
    The NPA and its adjuncts, the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and the National Democratic Front (NDF), all failed to show to the public that they were sincere in striking a peace deal with Rody.
    The suspicions all started when the communist groups issued a demand for the release of practically all their captured members for whom the military and the police have invested lives and resources to catch.
    Rody told leaders of the communist movement that their difficult demand can be met only if a peace deal is signed but the CPP-NPA-NDF said the release of prisoners should be a precondition to an agreement.
    Rody called off negotiations sensing that the commies were merely stalling and using the interregnum to intensify the recruitment of members.
    Rody recently declared the communist movement a terror group and is now moving to have this legally applied through a court declaration.
    Considering that Rody practically gave an arm and a leg to entice the commies to the negotiating table, including giving them the privilege of nominating heads of key government agencies, the communist movement is in no position to accuse Rody of insincerity.
    Nor can Rody be accused of not being serious in striking a deal with the commies since he bent over backwards in restarting negotiations after earlier calling these off several times due to atrocities from the NPAs.
    Rody said that the target would be to end the communist insurgency within a year or the duration of the extended martial law.
    The so-called legal fronts of the communist movement will spearhead efforts to remove Rody from office as a result.
    These legal fronts usually strike a strategic alliance with yellow groups since they have the common aim to oust Rody or make his rule unpopular.
    Rody is facing a multicolor threat in the black flag of the IS, the Red fighters and the yellow mob all scheming to boot him out of power.
    What is distinct is that the black, the yellow and the red groups have the common denominator of an aim to seize control of political power from Rody.
    Such triple threat can be construed as bigger than a rebellion and an invasion combined and a valid reason for the continued military rule.

  • Budget, Train go together

    An achievement that Congress should be credited with, is its passing of the budget despite the heavy legislative load and the fast-approach of the holiday recess.
    There was no railroading to speak of, even, as fierce debates in the bicameral happened over proposals to slash the budget, particularly for the Department of Public Works and Highways which was an offshoot of the P8.7-billion anomaly on road right of ways (RROW) that is being accused against officials of the previous administration.
    The reduction of the RROW allocations will have a detrimental effect on the infrastructure buildup program but this was quickly resolved resulting in the approval of the budget in both chambers of Congress last Tuesday, well ahead of the scheduled break.
    It now goes to President Duterte’s office and it is expected that the government will have a new budget before the year turns.
    The budget is crucial to the achievement of the goals of the administration of Rody as the country seeks to recover from the neglect of the previous administration which has become notorious for underspending the budget.
    The focus of the budget next year is free tuition in state universities and colleges (SUCs), along with the support for farmers, increase in teachers’ allowance and base pay of military and uniformed personnel, and the rehabilitation of Marawi City, among others.
    It will also give realization to Rody’s promise for a pay hike for policemen and soldiers that gets an allocation of P63 billion to double the basic pay of both the Police Officer 1 and Private from P14,834 per month to P29,668 per month.
    Another crucial appropriation is the funding for the purchase of body cameras for Philippine National Police (PNP) members amounting to P334 million to make anti-drug operations transparent and at the same time calm down the bleeding hearts.
    Some P900-million budget for Oplan Double Barrel of the police anti-drug operations was realigned for the housing of members of the PNP and Armed Forces of the Philippines.
    What could have been a pitfall, however, was the earlier uncertainty in the approval of the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion (Train) that should provide the funding for the budget.
    Credit watchdog Fitch Ratings recently raised the credit grade of the country citing its expectations of the approval of the tax reform law.
    Latest developments on the Train at the bicameral committee indicated that both chambers had ratified the Train bill and at the last minute, made it to the recess deadline.
    The hurdle prior to the ratification appeared to have been a last-minute inclusion of a provision increasing sin taxes which tobacco farmers opposed.
    They said any drastic increase in tobacco excise tax would be damaging to the situation of the farming and labor sectors.
    The late-minute inclusion was the result of some of the tax items being drastically reduced in the draft version of the bill that prompted the Department of Finance to recommend a higher excise tax on tobacco to hit a P130-billion revenue target.
    Also part of the Train bill is the increase in the exemption of annual taxable income and bonuses; reduced and simplified estate tax to a flat rate of six percent; introduction of taxes on sweetened beverages but with the exclusion of all milk, three-in-one coffee and nutritional beverages; increase in petroleum excise taxes; increase in threshold of value-added tax and exemptions of government-owned and -controlled corporations, state universities and colleges and national government agencies; automobile excise tax and excise taxes in coal, cosmetic procedures and tobacco products.
    The budget and the Train have been approved almost side by side since the General Appropriations Act becomes a costly plan in terms of debts without the funding raised for it.

  • Let bleeding hearts bleed

    The recent action of Fitch Ratings made the Philippines a full-fledged two-notch above investment grade country since other credit watchdogs gave the same rank earlier.
    Aside from being a prime endorsement to invest in the country, the upgrade was a stinging slap down on Rody’s yellow critics who are trying to whip up concerns over the war on drugs.
    Fitch said in its ratings action that “there is no evidence so far that incidents of violence associated with the administration’s campaign against the illegal drug trade have undermined investor confidence.”
    Among the factors Fitch cited for its action which economic managers said was past due were the nation’s strong economic performance and policies particularly the tax reform program and the infrastructure buildup where the government targets to invest P9 trillion until Rody steps down in 2022.
    Fitch was the first to raise the country’s credit rating to investments grade in 2013 but its rivals Moody’s and Standard and Poor’s raised the debt grade twice since then.
    Apparently Fitch balked at matching the move of the other two ratings firms since it failed to see the will for reforms under the previous administration which was wracked with underspending and anomalous use of the government’s budget such as the Disbursement Acceleration Program.
    Fitch also noted in its decision that investor confidence remains strong as indicated by solid domestic demand and inflows of foreign direct investment.
    Rody’s yellow opponents tried to highlight the allegations of extrajudicial killings which, depending on who is making the claim, ranges from 3,900 to an outrageous 14,000 deaths since the start of his presidency.
    The killings, however, were the consequence of police operations to quell a crime wave that Rody inherited from Noynoy as well as the anti-drug drive.
    The police were reintroduced into the war on drugs to provide support to the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency which will continue to be the lead agency in the campaign.
    The move of Fitch was above all a vote of confidence on the economic program which is anchored on government spending to improve the inadequate infrastructure.
    With the buildup and the accompanying reform programs, Fitch expects the economy to maintain growth rates of 6.8 percent in the next two years to maintain its place among the fastest-growing economies in the Asia-Pacific region.
    Under the Duterte administration’s “Build, Build, Build” campaign, the country’s airports, roads, railways and ports will be modernized to attract foreign direct investment and sustain economic growth.
    More upgrades are expected to come in the next two years as the reform programs that the economic managers have initiated at the onset of Rody’s term bear fruit.
    Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez said the country’s fundamentals are at par with, if not better than, those of higher-rated sovereigns and continue to improve.
    The improvements cited by Fitch can only be Rody’s since he has been in power for more than one year.
    Among those that went into the assessment for an upgrade were the average gross domestic product (GDP) growth which accelerated from 5.2 percent between 2003 to 2012 to 6.5 percent in the period 2013 to 2016.
    In the first three quarters, the economy expanded by an average of 6.7 percent.
    The target under Rody’s term would be a growth rate of 6.5 percent to 7.5 percent this year and seven to eight percent annually from 2018 to 2022.
    Government debt as a percentage of GDP also dropped from 49.2 percent as of end-2013 to 41.7 percent as of end-September 2017.
    Tax collection of the national government as a share of the economy’s GDP and which measures efficiency in tax collection, improved from 13.3 percent in 2013 to 14.5 percent in the first three quarters of 2017.
    More important, unemployment which has been a bare of the previous regime has been on the decline.
    The jobless rate fell from 7.1 percent in 2013 to 5.6 percent in July 2017.
    Investments which came in trickles during the past administration are also on the rise. Capital formation as a share to GDP grew from 22.1 percent in 2013 to 28.1 percent in the first three quarters of 2017.
    Despite his fiery mouth which is uncontrollable in spewing the worst words available when it started, Rody appears to have the leadership quality to make the economy fly.

  • Midnight deal, clear as daylight

    The way senators appreciated the P3.5-billion Dengvaxia anti-dengue vaccine scandal, the lucrative contract was among the midnight deals of the previous administration.
    Sen. Nancy Binay recalled that it was not the first time that an inquiry was held on the Dengvaxia scare as two public school students inoculated died, which prompted the probe.
    Sanofi Pasteur, the French pharmaceutical firm, triggered new concerns about the medicine when it issued an advisory saying a severe disease may occur when injected on those who have no history of dengue.
    The warning was issued when over 830,000 public school students were already inoculated through a nationwide immunization drive under the straight path administration of Noynoy.
    Sen. Richard Gordon, chairman of the Senate blue ribbon committee, said if irregularities are present in the deal then Noynoy and former Health Secretary Janette Garin will be culpable.
    Gordon was wondering despite the previous suspicions of irregularities in the Sanofi deal including the deaths that were being linked to it, the Ombudsman has moved too slowly to probe the deal which is usually what happens to cases involving Noynoy.
    Gordon said on its face, the immunization drive can’t be suspicious but circumstances lead to unpleasant conclusions.
    The funding for the immunization drive was not part of the GAA (General Appropriations Act), or the budget, for starters.
    The funding was inserted in the budget despite the absence of any compelling reason for the immunization program such as an outbreak of the dengue disease.
    “The number of deaths due to dengue (when the program was implemented) was low. Around 500,” Gordon said.
    The amount targeted was also suspect since the original “price tag” sought for release for the purchase of the dengue fever vaccine was P5 billion, only that P3.5 billion was inserted in the budget.
    Dengvaxia was not even in the Philippine National Drug Formulary or the essential drugs list which is the record of drugs that are allowed to be widely distributed.
    Gordon said the previous administration scrounged for funds and found these in the MPBF (miscellaneous personnel benefits fund) which is the usual victim of underspending in the previous administration.
    Negotiations with Sanofi have been constant and there were meetings among Noynoy, Garin and Sanofi officials in Paris.
    The first meeting took place in November, 2014, between Aquino and a Sanofui senior vice president for the Asian region in Beijing during the annual Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit.
    Another meeting was held in mid 2015 in Paris.
    On August 29, 2015 Sanofi applied for Dengvaxia to be included in the Philippine National Drug Formulary.
    Aquino then met anew with Sanofi officials along with Garin in Paris in December 1, 2015.
    Garin then filed for a health facility enhancement program funding and procurement of three million doses of dengue vaccine and nine days immediately after, the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) under Noynoy’s Rasputin Budget Secretary Butch Abad, Garin’s proposal was approved.
    On December 22, Dengvaxia got Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval that allows its marketing in the Philippines. The FDA was then under Garin, as officer-in-charge.
    The special allotment release order was made in December 28 and the following day it was issued by the DBM to the DoH which was made to be valid until December 31, 2015.
    Based on Gordon’s recounting, yellow shepherds were looking after the deal so that the funding is released before the end of 2015 or prior to the national elections in May, 2016.
    By Januanry 21 (2016), the Philippine Children’s Medical Center made a purchase order for dengue vaccine to Zuellig Pharma without approval from PNDF and on March 2, 2016, the notice for cash allocation was issued for P4.3 billion for the DoH and P3.5 billion of which was transferred to the PCMC and three days after, the purchase order was made to Zuellig Pharma, the local distributor of Sanofi.
    The rush for the approval of the lucrative deal and the timing of it when Noynoy was about to step down and the massive money the Liberal Party needed for the 2016 polls point to an inescapable conclusion of a yellow plunder.

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