FIRST PERSON - Alex Magno (The Philippine Star) - March 6, 2021 - 12:00am

The House of Representatives, it seems, if far from done with its intramurals.

Recall the dramatic events October last year when a group of congressmen led by Lord Allan Velasco moved to oust then House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano on the ground that the two legislators had agreed to unevenly share the term. That was not a friendly fight at all – even as all the participants pledged allegiance to the same pro-Duterte supermajority.

The Cayetano camp claimed that Velasco had demonstrated little interest in the nitty-gritty of legislative work and little aptitude for leadership. The camp pointed out his scarce appearance on the floor and little palpable effort to help move the administration’s agenda.

The Velasco camp, for its part, accused Cayetano and his closest allies of running roughshod over the multi-party alliance. The real source of their discontent was Cayetano’s foot-dragging on the term-sharing arrangement.

Turncoats ruled the moment. One day, Cayetano seemed to have majority support. The very next day, the tide shifted in Velasco’s favor. To end the constant turning of coats, Velasco engineered a rump session at a sports club to demonstrate he had the majority. Cayetano immediately yielded his post.

To induce an air of friendly transition, Velasco promised no changes in committee chairmanships and deputy speaker posts. Soon after he had consolidated his hold, however, he went ahead and unceremoniously dislodged those he perceived as Cayetano’s allies.

The sniping just went on and on thereafter.

The other day, Rep. Isidro Ungab (now aligned with Velasco) accused former speaker Cayetano and former deputy speaker Luis Raymund Villafuerte of slashing millions from the pensions and gratuity fund of retired military personnel. There must have been a serious memory lapse here. When the 2020 budget was being prepared, Ungab was House appropriations chair. After that he headed the House contingent to the bicameral committee to finalize the budget.

Now, Cayetano ally Rep. Michael Defensor is accusing the current appropriations chair Eric Yap of cutting the military pensions and gratuity fund for the 2021 national budget. Yap, anxious to shield his principals, claimed he did so without informing Speaker Velasco. This reawakens the old issue about Velasco’s aptitude in doing the work that comes with the post he coveted.

It seems Velasco and his closest allies are extremely insecure about the Speaker they deposed. They want to constantly discredit the former House leader, fearing the constantly shifting loyalties in this chamber might somehow cause his resurrection.

That adds an entirely new meaning to the aphorism that where there is insecurity, there will be no peace.


Just days after we received a donated shipment of Sinovac vaccines from China, the first shipment of AstraZeneca arrived from Belgium courtesy of the WHO Covax facility. No one seems to know what happened to the Pfizer vaccines.

We have close to a million doses on hand, converting into half a million beneficiaries. That is really a drop in the bucket. We need to inoculate about 70 million to build some sort of her immunity.

We are racing against time since emerging variants could outsmart the available vaccines. These dosages are notorious for having a short shelf life. Now we are also looking at the possibility of quick obsolescence. Recent reports raise the possibility the AstraZeneca vaccine could have limited efficacy against the South African variant. The new variants, being more transmissible, could be the dominant variants soon.

It will serve as well to look at the other available vaccines. We are now looking at opening negotiations to purchase Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine. This particular vaccine is actually more efficacious than either the Pfizer or Moderna varieties, according to the respected Lancet medical journal.

We should as well take a serious look at Indian vaccines, particularly the one produced by Bharat Biotech. This Indian pharmaceutical company was the first to file global patents for vaccines against the Zika and Chikungunya viruses. It also supplies the cheapest hepatitis vaccine.

India has long been a pharmaceutical superpower. Before the pandemic broke out, this South Asian country produced nearly 60 percent of the world’s vaccines. According to the latest estimates, India’s vaccine makers could produce 1.5 billion doses this year and even more the next.

Bharat Biotech manufactures 16 global vaccines. It has supplied a total of about 3 billion of these vaccines with scarcely any safety and efficacy issues. The company is in the process of completing trials for its Covaxin, a vaccine for COVID-19. Millions of Indians have received doses of Covaxin under emergency use authorization.

Covaxin has filed its application with our Food and Drug Administration for emergency use authorization. With its impressive trial results, it should be a matter of time before this particular vaccine is approved for our domestic use. That will give us another option besides the US and European vaccine varieties, some of which require ultra cold storage.

Part of the initial vaccine hesitancy reported regarding the Sinovac dosages has been due to xenophobic statements made by our politicians as well as a broad perception that stereotypes Chinese-made products as substandard. The hesitancy, fortunately, begins to wane as the available vaccines are administered with little incident.

The same stereotyping, fortunately, does not apply to the sprawling Indian pharmaceutical industry. If we want to inoculate 20 percent of all humanity this year, we will need the massive vaccine production capacity India built.

In our case, we will probably have better chances getting actual deliveries should we opt for Russian and Indian vaccines. Time matters in getting this pandemic to heel.

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