Causa de la causa

SEARCH FOR TRUTH - Ernesto P. Maceda Jr. - The Philippine Star

Causation is a recurring theme in the events of the week. Senator Richard Gordon, chair of the Senate committee on public accountability a.k.a. Blue Ribbon, demonized former President Benigno C. Aquino III as the cause of all the evil caused in the Department of Health (DOH) Dengvaxia tragedy.

After numerous hearings, Sen. Gordon published a draft Committee Resolution finding ex-President Aquino (i) liable for graft and violating the code of conduct and ethical practices having entered into a disadvantageous contract; and (ii) ultimately liable for “all the tragedy, damage and possible deaths resulting from the Dengvaxia mass vaccination program” under the principle of el que es causa de la causa es causa del mal causado (he who is the cause of the cause is the cause of the evil caused).

Going solo. It was a judgment call answered the ex-President and his men. People were dying and this was the solution that presented itself. Easy to criticize in hindsight? Not so, according to Senator Gordon. Because they had the benefit of foresight. The Formulary Executive Council (FEC), the government body that determines the list of drugs that the government can buy or use, recommended only (a) staged procurement; (b) one year pilot testing. There was not enough clinical studies on long term safety, effectiveness, and it was not cost effective to do all at once. These red flags should have signaled them to exercise caution even if Secretary Janette Garin’s own medical directors advised her to proceed.

Sen. Gordon believes he has made a case for graft. The deaths, if ultimately proven to be Dengvaxia related, were clearly not the ex-President’s intent. But if he intended to enter into this disadvantageous contract, then he is liable even for the unintended consequences of his original intended act, whatever they may be.

Mitigating. Senator Joseph Victor Ejercito, chair of the committee on health which conducted the investigation jointly, disagrees. For him, there is no intent as the ex-President was just negligent. His exact words were: “he is guilty … for not exercising due diligence … a failure of leadership that should hound his conscience and legacy.” Thus, the ex-President cannot be tied to the ultimate wrong that resulted. A negligent wrong is not the same as an intentional wrong. Both committee chairmen, however, agree that: (a) there were crimes committed; and (b) Sec. Garin and Secretary Florencio Abad were the principal conspirators.  

Why, though, is the DOH under Secretary Paulyn Ubial not being held to the same scrutiny? After all, the Ubial DOH continued and even expanded the program. More children were exposed to the vaccine under Sec. Ubial than under Sec. Garin. The same science, which the Gordon draft report would hold Aquino and Co. liable for ignoring, was available to the Ubial DOH. She, in fact, initially deferred the program on grounds of safety. But she backtracked and issued an exemption to Sanofi. This is what allowed the program to continue. Just ask Presidential spokesman Harry Roque, then a Congressman, who blocked Ubial’s confirmation precisely because of this flip flopping.

Meanwhile, on Olympus…The same causation script is spouted by Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes P.A. Sereno. Her harm is the Quo Warranto caused by Solicitor General Jose Calida. But the hidden hand, she says, belongs to President Rodrigo Roa Duterte. Therefore, President Duterte is the cause of the harm.

What’s wrong with this picture? The harm is actually not the Quo Warranto petition filed. This is not the first time Quo Warranto is being applied against an impeachable official. In highly charged political milieus, such challenges are to be expected from the desperate. In the US, President Barack Obama endured his share of Quo Warranto attacks during both his terms. None of them made it through the prophylactic of an unaccommodating Court as the matter was beyond dispute. 

Here our Supreme Court is actually entertaining it. If the Court should grant the same, what would it say to the power to remove impeachable officials textually committed by the Constitution to the Legislature? It is this Court action and what it may engender which is Chief Justice Sereno’s true harm. It’s a mystery why the Senate and even the House has not filed its own indignant opposition in intervention the way the 40,000 strong Integrated Bar of the Philippines did. Only the Supreme Court itself, if granting the Quo Warranto, would be the Chief’s causa del mal causado.

Marked contrast. Remarkable in consistency is ex-President Aquino’s refusal to apologize. He refused to after Luneta. He refused to after Mamasapano. We still remember his glaring and grating absence at the arrival honors for the fallen at Villamor Air Base. 

President Duterte has proved to be the bigger man. In the middle of his tight schedule and overcome with emotion while in Hong Kong, he formally apologized for the Nation in the matter of the Luneta hostage taking tragedy. 

But this is denouement. Though he was apologizing for the entire country, this was just the second act after what another bigger man did. President Joseph Ejercito Estrada, in his first term as Manila Mayor last 2014, immediately confronted the difficult challenge that ex-President Aquino would not accept. President Mayor Estrada took it upon himself to travel to Hong Kong, hat in hand, and, for the City of Manila, proferred a formal apology to the Hong Kong government.

Unlike now where PRRD is China’s BFF, it was an angry Hong Kong and China which President Mayor Estrada reached out to. Yet he did not think twice about wading into that sea of hostility to do what was right and overdue. It diffused a potentially disastrous powderkeg situation for our bilateral trade and tourism relations. More importantly, it avoided the backlash that was about to be visited on our more than 160,000 OFW heroes working there.

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