POSTSCRIPT / November 20, 2014 / Thursday


Opinion Columnist

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Garin, Catapang show guts facing Ebola risks

UNPROTECTED: At this point, we can only wait and hope that acting Health Secretary Janette Garin and armed forces chief Gen. Gregorio Catapang are not carrying and possibly spreading the deadly Ebola virus.

When they visited the 132 Filipino peacekeepers quarantined on Caballo Island after they were brought home from Liberia — once at the African epicenter of the Ebola outbreak – the courageous Cabinet officials did not don protective suits.

To calm public concern over the virus, if any, possibly being passed on to the officials, Malacañang said they had followed health protocols under guidelines set by the World Health Organization.

We can also presume that the health secretary, a medical doctor, knew what she and general Catapang were doing.

It was just worrisome that the returning peacekeepers had not yet passed their 21-day quarantine and could not yet be declared totally Ebola-free.

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IMMUNITY: More than half of nearly 6,000 fatalities in the world were in Liberia. As of Nov. 12, the WHO had recorded 6,822 Ebola cases in that country, although there has been a major decline in new cases, with only about 50 emerging per day versus 500 per day at its peak.

Garin said there was no need to wear protective suits when they visited the peacekeepers on Caballo. Personal protective equipment, she explained, is necessary “only when the patient is showing signs and symptoms of Ebola”.

She did not seem bothered that some health professionals with more sophisticated protective gear and procedure who had served in Ebola-hit countries developed the disease weeks after returning home in the United States and Spain.

On the Filipino peacekeepers, since none of them has shown signs and symptoms, can their friends and families visit them the way Garin and Catapang did? Or is Caballo safe for Cabinet officials only?

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WHAT IF: The tenor of statements of Garin and Catapang is that they did not want any stigma developing on the peacekeepers aside from emphasizing the official belief that the returnees were, so far, not infected by the Ebola virus.

Is that good intention enough justification for the two Cabinet officials’ not wearing protective suits before the end of the 21-day quarantine period?

Huwag naman sana, but what if the virus later manifests itself in any of the peacekeepers? Would that make Garin and Catapang potential Ebola carriers?

Not a few TV viewers noted that the armed forces chief of staff shook hands with President Noynoy Aquino during the defense department’s anniversary and the Chief Executive’s send-off to Singapore days ago.

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WHO NOTES: There should be strict observance of quarantine rules. The WHO says in its website:

People remain infectious as long as their blood and body fluids, including semen and breast milk, contain the virus. Men who have recovered from the disease can still transmit the virus through their semen for up to seven weeks after recovery from illness.

“The incubation period, that is, the time interval from infection with the virus to onset of symptoms is 2 to 21 days. Humans are not infectious until they develop symptoms. First symptoms are the sudden onset of fever fatigue, muscle pain, headache and sore throat.

“This is followed by vomiting, diarrhea, rash, symptoms of impaired kidney and liver function, and in some cases, both internal and external bleeding (e.g. oozing from the gums, blood in the stools).

“It can be difficult to distinguish Ebola virus disease from other infectious diseases such as malaria, typhoid fever and meningitis.” (One of the Filipino peacekeepers manifested some of the symptoms but he was declared to have been suffering only from malaria. He was isolated while being treated.)

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CALAX REBID: Judging by the statement President Aquino made in China, it looks like a rebidding is the most likely scenario for the controversial Cavite-Laguna Expressway (CALAX) Public-Private Partnership project.

Earlier, the President said he was thinking of rebidding the project despite a perfected bidding process where a qualified bidder (the Ayala-Aboitiz consortium) won. The option was considered, according to him, because the disqualified bidder (San Miguel group) claimed it had a superior bid. The claim was made, however, after it was already disqualified and a winner declared.

In his talk with the press in China, the President himself expressed doubts on the claim of a superior bid by the disqualified bidder. He echoed the legal and moral dilemma of handing over a won-project to a disqualified bidder.

When the disqualified bidder retrieved its bid and destroyed the seal, its tender was no longer in the hands of a neutral party, such as the Bids and Awards Committee.

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QUESTIONS: Rebidding an already won PPP project may be risky. How sure is the President that in a new bidding the government would get the P20-billion premium claimed by the disqualified bidder?

And if no other investors join the rebidding, will the earlier disqualified bidder still tender that P20-billion offer?

What if, by the time the rebidding is done, the San Miguel group changes its investment priorities? What if San Miguel shareholders realize they are not willing to pay the premium?

What if the macroeconomic conditions change during the rebidding period and the earlier disqualified bidder’s tender of P20-billion premium is no longer viable?

What would stop the earlier disqualified bidder from offering just a P1-billion premium instead of P20 billion if it were the only bidder in the planned CALAX rebidding?

(First published in the Philippine STAR of November 20, 2014)

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