POSTSCRIPT / March 16, 2000 / Thursday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Alien biopirates patent stolen RP wonder cures

CRIMINAL jurisdiction is no longer an issue in the recent mauling of a Cebu cabbie by three US sailors who were here on R&R (rest and recreation) after participating in a recent RP-US joint military exercise.

When the three crewmen of the USS Blue Ridge showed up in court Tuesday to face charges of physical injuries, malicious mischief and estafa, and pleaded not guilty upon arraignment, that was the clearest manifestation that they and their superiors had accepted Philippine jurisdiction over the case.

That was a great day for Philippine-American relations. It was an open reassurance that the controversial Visiting Forces Agreement, under which the sailors came over, is functioning.

Whether the trio will be found guilty or acquitted, or the case settled out of court, we will now leave to the court, the parties involved and, of course, their lawyers.

* * *

LET’S hope it is not too late to stop First World biopirates from poaching on our flora and fauna and developing from stolen specimens wonder drugs for hard-to-cure diseases.

Environment Secretary Antonio H. Cerilles has reminded the 105 Protected Areas Management Boards (PAMBs) in the country to strictly enforce the “no permit, no collection” policy of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources on the collection of biological specimens in protected areas.

Sometimes alien biopirates are even accompanied by Filipino officials and technicians to facilitate their entry/exit in protected areas. If you ask us, we think these mercenary collaborators should be shot on the spot.

* * *

RECENTLY, three sacks and one box containing specimens of plants believed to have medicinal values were seized from three French scientists in Palawan while about to leave for Manila.

The items were not covered by the required collection permit from the local DENR office or a permit from the PAWB. The cargo also did not have the required endorsement from the Palawan Council for Sustainable Development (PCSD).

We have already lost some valuable specimens to biopirates. Listen to this report of Cerilles and weep:

“At least one tree with cancer-curing potential, four native vegetables, one snail which produces the most effective painkiller, an antibiotic soil fungus, one fruit tree and several rice varieties have been stolen and are now owned by foreign pharmaceutical firms.”

“These firms and foreign governments secretly work with scientists of victim nations. They patent and map chromosomes of genetic resources without informing, consulting and duly compensating the sources.”

* * *

READ about these samples of pirated native items — and you either become too numb to react or you erupt in indignation.

One item is “ilosone,” a native soil fungus so-called in honor of Iloilo province from where it was collected by American company Eli Lilly. This soil fungus can produce an antibiotic popularly knows as “erythromycin.”

Other local bio-specimens already patented abroad include the “ampalaya” (Mamantia mordica), and “talong” (Solanum melongena), which are known to have potentials in curing thrombosis (blood clotting) and fighting the human immuno-deficiency virus (HIV), which causes AIDS. “Ampalaya” has been confirmed also as an effective cure for diabetes.

Another item stolen was the Philippine yew (Taxus matrana) found on Mount Pulag, Benguet. Reported to have a great potential in treating cancer, it was uprooted from the national park and its patenting abroad was made possible by researchers from the University of Massachusetts.

* * *

POSSIBLY the most sensational case is the discovery of a toxin called SNX 111 from the Philippine snail (Conus magnus). It is now owned by Neurex Inc., a US-based multinational pharmaceutical firm that even merited the assistance of scientists from the University of the Philippines-Marine Science Institute and the University of Utah.

The snail is now covered by US patent numbers 5-189-020, 5-559-095, and 5-587-454, and to hell with the Philippines. Puede ba yon?

SNX III is a painkiller said to be 1,000 times more effective than morphine. The World Intellectual Property Organization says that Neurex already spent $80 million in preparing to launch the new wonder painkiller.

Warner Lambert, one of the world’s major international pharmaceutical companies whose sales run to almost $6 billion, has reportedly entered into a marketing deal with Neurex to market the drug.

* * *

DO we just gape helplessly as this shameless biopiracy is carried out right under our noses with the help of Filipino collaborators?

How much of our resources have been stolen and how much more is left? What can we do to recover stolen specimens or block their unauthorized use. If it’s the only option left, how do we share in the benefits by way of royalty or other compensation?

Even the law will not protect those who sleep on their rights.

* * *

ON the tourism front, another turf war is brewing, one between Tourism Secretary Gemma Cruz Araneta and Administrator Lito Banayo of the Philippine Tourism Authority. Banayo is also a presidential adviser on political affairs.

The latest skirmish erupted the other day during a Senate hearing on a PTA plan to build a P400-million dining-shopping complex jutting out into the bay behind the Quirino grandstand at the Luneta.

The tourism department lays down policies while the PTA, which holds the money, carries out tourism development. Araneta also sits on top of the PTA board, but Banayo is the chief executive. The Luneta project is being pushed by Banayo, and opposed by Araneta.

* * *

IN the latest skirmish during the Senate hearing, Araneta said in so many words that President Estrada may have been misled into approving the project without being made fully aware of its implications.

Adding color to the row is the grapevine tidbit that a powerful lady from San Juan is allegedly guiding the Luneta project to fruition.

The project features restaurants offering regional cuisine, specialty shops and a boardwalk. Its proponents say they drew inspiration from the Opera House in Sydney and the Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco.

Some sectors opposing the project stressed that the Luneta, the only decent park in Metro Manila of that size, should not be overdeveloped, nor its open spaces gobbled up or cluttered further with permanent structures.

* * *

REACTING to our lament (Postscript, 3/12/00) on the dearth of decent destination for a weekend family outing, Roger Busby using a hvisions.com address told us of this incident in Laguna:

“Recently my wife (Filipina) and I and three friends visited Pagsanjan Falls. We arrived in Pagsanjan late in the morning and after checking in at the Tourism Office to get our tickets for the banca boat ride to the falls, we were steered to the Philippine Tourism Authority hotel (Pagsanjan Garden Resort) as a place for the night.

“The rent for a cottage was very reasonable (P1,600 per night), but then the down sides began to arise. Although the grounds of the hotel were beautiful, when we entered the cottage we discovered the while there was electricity (AC), there was no hot water for bathing.

“We thought this odd, but decided we could live with it for one night. I then asked where their restaurant was and was informed there was no restaurant at the hotel! In fact, although the falls are a big attraction for day trips from, there is only one resort hotel in the entire area with all the amenities one would expect (the Pagsanjan Falls Lodge).

“To top off the bad experience, after travelling partway up the river toward the falls, we got to a little place where refreshments and souvenirs were sold. We were informed that because it had rained the night before, we could go no farther up the river and would not get to see the falls.

“I would have to think very hard about returning to see the falls or to recommend to any of my American friends that they do so. At best, all I could recommend would be a quick in and out day trip.”

* * *

IT’S good that our officials were shamed into shelving that indecent bill imposing an exorbitant road users’ tax on private motor vehicle owners already groaning under an overload of taxes and the escalating cost of fuel.

Dapat naman silang mahiya!  Imagine, while they want to make us pay as much as 500 percent more in registration fees, officials will not pay a single centavo for the registration of their official vehicles.

This is not to mention also their not having to pay from their own pockets for gasoline, oil and maintenance, as well as the salaries of their drivers. All that will be paid for them by us much-abused taxpayers!

No wonder they have no qualms about imposing more bloody taxes on us taxpayers. Now, let’s wait for them to trot out that road users’ tax again.

* * *

(First published in the Philippine STAR of March 16, 2000)

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