The cancer called corruption
COMMONSENSE - Marichu A. Villanueva (The Philippine Star) - October 29, 2018 - 12:00am

The law enforcement team of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently raided and padlocked the pharmacy of a clinic somewhere in Tarlac that is allegedly engaged in unauthorized sale of supposed anti-cancer medicine. The FDA operatives also seized so-called herbal products being hyped in social media as a cure for cancer and other serious ailments.

The owner and operator of the clinic – reportedly a social media celebrity of sorts – allegedly got mad at the FDA. Thus, it is not surprising that FDA Director-General Nela Charade Puno has been the subject of harsh bashing by social media habitués, trolls and otherwise following the closure of this pharmacy/clinic of unregistered medicine that purportedly can cure cancer diseases.

Precisely the FDA raid was done after they found and verified that the pharmacy of the clinic in Tarlac has been in violation of various provisions of Republic Act (RA) No. 9711, in particular on the prohibition on the sale of unregistered health products and for operating a pharmacy without a valid License to Operate issued by the FDA.

The bashers of Puno claimed they were being deprived of cheap cancer treatment after FDA law enforcers closed this down. Other bashers opted to hit Puno below the belt, even calling her with unprintable invectives. They threatened to lead a march to the FDA office to present Puno with “thousands” of signatures to an online petition calling for the reopening of the pharmacy and the resumption of the sale of the controversial herbal cancer cure.

It appears the clinic operator has not categorically denied the anti-cancer products reportedly sold by this unauthorized pharmacy in the clinic do not have the required Certificates of Registration or CPR from the FDA. Instead of refuting the allegations, the FDA is being bashed as a stumbling block to their “cheap” medicine for cancer cure.

These trolls have also allegedly threatened to pull strings and tap their political connections in a bid to force Puno to reopen the pharmacy and allow the sale of the unregistered cancer cures. Some of them have reportedly gotten Senate Health Committee chairman Senator JV Ejercito to call for a “roundtable discussion” regarding the closure of this cancer clinic.

The viciousness of their rants against the FDA cannot supplant the absence of the required certificates of product registration and licenses to operate. The celebrity status in social media does not exempt one from complying with the rules and regulations of the State regarding the sale of unregistered products in unlicensed pharmacies.

There are reportedly attempts to pressure Health Secretary Francisco Duque to order the FDA to reverse its moves. We hope these reports are not true. We do not think Secretary Duque would find social media celebrity status a good enough reason to stop an agency under his department that is doing a good job.

The government, through the FDA, has put a system in place to protect the public. That system has not given the green light for this supposed cheap cancer cure. But why insist on untested cancer cure to the deadly disease? Is that not unfair to the cancer patients?

The FDA head, however, appeared unnerved by the vilification drive in social media and threats. Thanks to an FDA leadership that has both will and resourcefulness, the agency is now making impact and appears bent on getting rid the black market of illegal wellness products.

This is a different FDA we have been seeing in the news lately. Just recently, Puno, who was going to an official mission in Daet, Camarines Norte, faced death when their convoy of police escorts was reportedly attacked by New People’s Army (NPA) rebels. Three police officers were killed but Puno escaped unhurt. The casualties were in two marked police cars while Puno and several FDA employees were in another vehicle when they were waylaid in Bgy. Napolidan last Oct. 18. So don’t expect Puno to cringe on threats.
Talking about treatment of cancer, solving corruption in the bureaucracy such as the Bureau of Customs is like trying to excise deadly cancer tissues out of the body.

In yet unprecedented move, President Rodrigo Duterte exercised his powers and prerogatives to implement a top-to-bottom revamp of the Customs Bureau in exasperation over the continuing crimes and corruption in this government agency despite his admonitions. As the country’s Chief Executive, the President is empowered by the Administrative Code as well as by the 1987 Constitution to revamp and reorganize the bureaucracy at any time and any reason at his discretion.

Barely going into the third year of his six-year term of office, President Duterte is now on his third Customs commissioner, retired Armed Forces chief of staff, Rey Leonardo Guerrero whom he named last week. Previously appointed as MARINA chief, Guerrero takes over from erstwhile Customs commissioner Isidro Lapeña whom he “promoted” to Cabinet-ranked position as TESDA Director-General.  

Lapeña got “promoted” for the same reason his predecessor, former Magdalo mutineer ex-Marine Capt. Nicanor Faeldon got the boot for big-time shabu smuggling at the Customs during his watch. Faeldon was reassigned as deputy administrator for operations at the Office of Civil Defense with a rank of Defense assistant secretary. He is now the Bureau of Corrections chief.

President Duterte justified the twin replacements of the two ex-Customs commissioners and their re-assignments as not a loss of confidence to both. Their removal as Customs chief was rationalized, using the President’s own words – “nalusutan lang” by the shabu smugglers and their cohorts inside and out of the Bureau.

Typical in any revenue collections and income generating government agencies, the root of corruption is embedded in the bureaucratic maze. Thus, it requires sort of surgical skills in order to save the good and healthy parts of the body from the diseased tissues.

The Augean task of reforming the Customs bureaucracy is like treating cancer which, if not done with surgical precision, may worsen, not cure the malaise.

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