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Conspirators

FIRST PERSON - Alex Magno (The Philippine Star) - April 12, 2018 - 12:00am

Sen. Richard Gordon yesterday gave us a peek into the Blue Ribbon Committee report on the Dengvaxia mess. The report is the outcome of several public hearings held to get to the bottom of the mass vaccination of what was still an experimental drug.

Headlining the Gordon report is the recommendation that criminal charges be filed against former president Benigno Aquino III, his health secretary Janette Garin and his budget secretary Florencio Abad. Graft and other charges were recommended filed against a number of senior Health officials who participated in the process of hurriedly procuring over P3 billion of the vaccine and then hurriedly (and sloppily) implementing the vaccination program.

Based on the timeline of events leading to the procurement of the faulty vaccine and the execution of the massive vaccination program, the report concludes a criminal conspiracy between Aquino, Abad and Garin.  It is, in the view of the report, a heartless conspiracy that took no account of the perils posed by the vaccine on the hundreds of thousands of children collared for the vaccination program.

The haste with which the large amount of funds was put together and the procurement made suggests a political motive. The vaccination program was rushed so that it could be implemented before the 2016 elections.

In rushing the vaccination program, possibly for electoral impact, the report takes Aquino to task for evident lack of concern for the welfare of his countrymen. It is a character flaw in the former president we saw in the way he treated the victims of Typhoon Yolanda and the general callousness he demonstrated toward the soldiers slaughtered at Mamasapano.

The Public Attorney’s Office (PAO), at its own initiative, has been investigating several deaths attributed the side effects of Dengvaxia. The last time Aquino addressed the Dengvaxia issue, he denigrated the credentials of the doctor performing autopsies on the remains of the adolescents.

French pharmaceutical giant Sanofi Pasteur denied the drug they sold the Philippine government is responsible for any of the deaths. That is a matter further tests might be able to settle.

Meanwhile, dozens of grieving parents are convinced the vaccine is responsible for the sudden death of their children. Hundreds of thousands of parents of children subjected to the vaccination program are worried no end about the vaccine’s possible effects on their children.

Aquino’s spokesperson Abigail Valte says the former president is ready for whatever charges may be filed in the wake of the Gordon report. Actually, the former president has no choice.

Ready or not, he must face whatever charges are filed against him for decisions he took as chief executive. In a proper court setting, with formal charges filed, he can no longer rely on the excuses he offered in the public hearings: that he was unaware of the possible deleterious effects of the vaccine. That will only magnify criminal negligence.

Unhappily for Aquino, the Dengvaxia mess will define his legacy more than anything else. It will overshadow all the other things for which he had been faulted: the general indecisiveness, the failure to respond promptly to natural calamities, the faulty decision-making that led to the slaughter at Mamasapano and the use of the pork barrel as the means for getting the desired political outcomes. 

Elpidio Quirino is unfairly remembered for the fake news he kept a golden chamber pot by his bedside. Noynoy Aquino will be remembered as the president who allowed the lives of hundreds of thousands of poor Filipino children to be put at risk and used as guinea pigs by Big Pharma at huge taxpayer expense.

His legacy was unflattering even before this scandal broke. It might not even be the last to undermine the way his presidency will be remembered.

Deficit

While we were all enthralled by the Gordon Report, there was more bad news breaking elsewhere.

Our balance of trade position, it appears, has worsened. That is bad news for the Philippine peso, already the worst performing currency in the region. It might also begin to threaten our credit risk standing.

To begin with, the Philippine economy has not exactly been an export juggernaut. We have no market-busting products to sell to the rest of the world. Our bananas and mangoes might be the best there is, but the inward currency flows in the volume required to offset the cost of our imports.

To more or less achieve balance of payments parity, we rely on the remittances from our huge army of migrant workers, the incomes generated by our business process outsourcing sector and the minor boom we are enjoying in tourist arrivals. The market for our migrant labor is saturated. The BPO sector has to compete mightily with other markets and is threatened down the road with the use of artificial intelligence. Our tourism is saddled with event risks such as the recent closure of Boracay.

Meanwhile, our imports have either increased or become more expensive. We suffer from the rise in world oil prices over the past few months. At the moment, we expect greater importation of capital goods with increased investments in our economy and in anticipation of the infrastructure investments boom.

Costlier imports will input to our rising inflation rate. A weak peso will hardly dissuade importation of essential goods such as oil. It will only make fuel and power more expensive for Filipino consumers, reallocating disposable income from other goods.

Until we are able to build competitive exports, the trade deficit we now experience will remain chronic.

SEN. RICHARD GORDON
Philstar
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