POSTSCRIPT / January 28, 2003 / Tuesday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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PPA bad enough? Here’s another one!

MORE DEADLY PPA: We are still reeling from the blows of PPA (purchased power adjustment) that doubles our electricity bill, and now comes another deadly PPA (phenylaropanolamine), a dangerous substance in many popular medications that could cause fatal strokes.

The US Food and Drug Administration has banned medicines containing PPA. But our own Bureau of Food and Drug (BFAD) insists it is safe and allows over-the-counter sale of PPA-laden medications to unsuspecting customers.

Yale University scientists have found PPA to cause hemorrhagic stroke (bleeding in the brain). Also known as norephedrine, PPA has been blamed for an average of 500 cases of stroke each year in the US. In 1998, the United Nations listed PPA or norephedrine as a substance that needed to be regulated worldwide.

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BFAD UNPERTURBED: Following the Yale study, the US FDA warned the public in November 2000 not to use PPA-laden products and go for alternatives instead.

Surprisingly, our own BFAD contradicted Yale University and the US FDA. It issued an administrative order in late 2000 saying PPA is safe at certain dosages (and implying that it is dangerous at higher dosages).

Is the BFAD under the illusion that Filipinos enjoy some kind of special immunity that Caucasians do not have? The BFAD owes us more than a casual explanation. Press releases are not assuring enough.

So the tainted products — including such popular medication as Tuseran, Neozep, Sinutab and Disudrin — are still being sold over the counter to this day. We have asked a number of supposedly well-informed friends and they professed ignorance of this killer in their medicines.

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U.S. WARNING OUT: The substance PPA was made by westerners, and they themselves are now saying it is dangerous. But our own BFAD — we dare say without the competence. facilities and funds of Yale, the US FDA and the UN — pretends to know better. (Or chooses to wallow in blissful ignorance?)

We wonder who among the big drug firms have been talking to the officials lording it over the BFAD and rendering them deaf and blind to the warnings of more competent technical bodies.

The US FDA has been protecting the American public with this warning: “We suggest you stop taking the drug immediately and use an alternative.” If there is the slightest risk of a stroke, the FDA says the medicine is not worth taking because there is a choice.

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SOMEBODY SHOULD SUE!: In June 2002, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo signed into law the Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002 that adopted a 1998 United Nations list of drugs and substances that had to be regulated and/or banned. The list included norephredine, another name for PPA.

This law requires local agencies to lay down the implementing guidelines within 60 days. We were told that none has been issued to this day. Hence, PPA supply, use and sale continue unregulated.

By their inaction, BFAD and other government agencies have neutralized the well-meaning law and exposed the public to untold health hazards.

We can only speculate how many people have suffered strokes from taking PPA-laden medicines without knowing what killed or disabled them. Somebody should look into this and sue!

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BFAD MUST MOVE: For the moment, the BFAD must identify all the products laden with PPA, in whatever amount, to warn the public and give consumers a choice. That is the least it can do.

With the Dangerous Drugs Board, the BFAD should immediately comply with the law and move to regulate the supply, use and sale of PPA-tainted medicines. Its health opinion that PPA is safe at a certain dosage should be withdrawn immediately.

Since the law says these potentially fatal drugs should be regulated, their packaging and advertising should carry an appropriate warning. That is, if BFAD officials care at all for us consumers and have not been bought by big drug firms.

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HANDS-OFF ON ARTISTS: We welcome the bold move of Director General Dante Liban of the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (Tesda) renouncing its authority to process overseas-bound performing artists — singers, musicians, and dancers — and to leave this chore to the private sector.

Such a move would lead to a talent promotion and deployment regime that is more transparent and self-policing.

Liban’s move removes opportunities for “discretionary powers” that promote graft. We can imagine the chagrin of members of an entrenched syndicate of rotten Tesda bureaucrats and leeches in the industry preying on artists.

For a while there, we thought the syndicate would succeed in controlling the clearing of performing artists for overseas deployment. With Liban standing in the way, the syndicate had concocted charges of anomalous processing of documents to force him to resign.

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LOGICAL MOVE: In one fell swoop, Liban stopped the vicious demolition campaign by renouncing Tesda’s clearance powers and giving the authority to the industry. Obviously, the syndicate will have to device other ways to amass dirty money.

Liban’s giving up the processing of outbound performing artists is logical. Why should these talents pass screening by such a government agency as Tesda that has to do with technical skills? The artists’ peers in the industry will be more competent to audition, test and rate them.

What Liban did was along the mandate given him by President Arroyo to clean the agency of graft and introduce reforms. He knows whereof he speaks, because the former Quezon City congressman was one of the principal authors of the law creating Tesda.

Gen. Nestor Castillo (ret.), OPA Concerns Operations Center chief, said Liban has written the President saying that “the best move would be to take the OPA out of Tesda. We give it (OPA assessment function of Tesda) to the industry by March this year.”

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PAPERS FOR SALE: The syndicate is allegedly headed by a testing center manager claiming connection to a former senator. Part of the racket involves the Artist Record Book, a basic requirement of aspiring singers to work abroad.

The document is allegedly issued even to unqualified OPA applicants for P20,000 to P30,000 each without undergoing audition. The Tesda-approved assessment fee is only P1,000 per applicant.

More than 400 talents are assessed everyday by seven accredited centers for singers. Last year, at least 236,536 persons were assessed, with 31,828 of them passed as overseas performing artists.

When Liban revamped the process by taking in as testing officers, apart from the present crop, competent people from the University of the Philippines College of Music, University of Santo Tomas, Philippine Women’s University, and the National Center for Culture and the Arts, the syndicate resisted.

The OPA sector is a minor part of Tesda, which also handles information communications technology, health care, food processing, agriculture, livelihood, garments, transport, automotive, and other sectors.

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GANG’S HOLD BROKEN?: Liban’s move doused cold water on wild claims that he has been cornering a huge chunk of the lucrative business for favored parties. Would he cut his right hand to prove his left hand to be clean?

“It is disheartening to find DG Liban a victim of a well-financed, well-orchestrated ouster move, lodged against someone who’s firmly committed to good governance, or at least meaningful reforms at Tesda,” Castillo said.

The policy shift caught the syndicate off guard and took the winds off the sails of a campaign to unseat Liban and derail his reform program.

Castillo said that “a syndicate that has long been controlling the industry even boasts that it can change the Tesda chief whenever it pleases.” Feeling threatened by reform, the group reacted violently, he added.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of January 28, 2003)

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