POSTSCRIPT / March 13, 2018 / Tuesday


Opinion Columnist

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Cabinet man fails Duterte ‘whiff’ test

ANOTHER key member of the Duterte Cabinet is on his way out, if reports coming from the direction of the Palace are to be believed.

Asked why the Cabinet official is being eased out, considering that he has been President Rodrigo Duterte’s ally from way back and one of his trusted political advisers, the sources said his falling out has something to do with “missing funds” and, to some extent, “insensitivity.”

The President reportedly got more than a “whiff” of the tell-tale odor of corruption related, for one, to the official’s bungling of his campaign promise to stop “ENDO” (end of contract) in the work place.

There is a practice among some big businesses to limit workers’ contracts – such as in factories and sales centers — to five months to prevent their automatically become regular employees, as the law requires, after serving six months.

It appears from some reports that this official and his associates have been talking to targeted business executives about making adjustments, for some considerations, in carrying out the President’s promise to workers to stop ENDO.

Trackers sent by the Palace reportedly came back with reports that the official, long identified with the left, has started to adopt a “capitalist” lifestyle, which is contrary to the simple living rules followed by the President.

His reported new “capitalist” ways, magnified by the administration’s failure to make good its ENDO promise, have so incensed many labor groups that they always raise the issue of perfidy in their protest marches and statements.

Labor ranks are buzzing with talk that the official and two of his associates rake in an estimated P50 million a month, part of which reportedly goes to a war chest for a possible run for a Senate seat in 2019.

On at least four public occasions the President gave broad hints that he knew about the official’s activities and may just kick him out.

If he does not get the hint, this Cabinet stalwart may just see his ouster, sources said, when Overseas Filipino Workers’ problems that he had failed to address (and which the President had to personally manage) explode in the coming Senate inquiry on OFW issues.

Adding fuel to the official’s alleged mishandling of the ENDO promise are documented reports of OFWs, especially domestics, being abused by their employers in the Middle East where some 2.2 million Filipinos are deployed.

President Duterte was so moved by the case of Joanna Demafelis, 29, the Filipina from Iloilo who was tortured/killed and stuffed in the freezer of her Lebanese employer in Kuwait, that he stopped deployment of OFWs in Kuwait until her killers are punished.

For one year after Demafelis was reported by her family in 2016 as missing, the official and others in labor agencies supposed to look after OFWs were clueless. Her frozen remains were found only in February.

While evacuating to Manila — for free — Filipinos in Kuwait who wanted to return home, the President threatened to impose a total ban on OFW deployment in the region if working conditions are not improved and their safety is not guaranteed by the host countries.

In a recent speech, Duterte related his own experience as a prosecutor looking into OFW cases. He said most victims of abuse in the Middle East are poor workers, many of them women who are confined, starved, overworked, treated like slaves, and raped by multiple men.

The President vowed to stop this widespread abuse of usually helpless Filipinos, even if he has to declare a total ban or go to hell to do it.

• WHO experts to help dengue drive

A GROUP of epidemiologists, infectious disease and health experts from the World Health Organization is coming to help shed light on controversies linking Dengvaxia, the world’s first anti-dengue vaccine, to the deaths of about 26 children.

Medical industry sources said the WHO intends to help the Department of Health in rallying public support behind the government’s public vaccination program.

Officials of the United Nations agency are reportedly worried about the possible outbreak of more deadly diseases, especially among vulnerable sectors such as children and the poor, as a result of the local Dengvaxia vaccination scare.

Among the 19 countries using Dengvaxia as a shield against infection by the dengue virus, only in the Philippines has a widespread alarm been raised, partly because of misinformation fanned by alarming statements of public figures.

Dengvaxia gained global attention in 2015, when the WHO published its findings on the dengue virus.

While not recommending medicines to national regulatory agencies, WHO released results of a study showing Dengvaxia’s efficacy when administered to patients nine years old and above.

But like all other vaccines available for human use, authorities point out, Dengvaxia is still a “work in progress” despite its completing Stage-4 trials.

That might explain why several “health experts” — like Dr. Susie Mercado, who happens to be a tobacco and mental abuse expert, and Dr. Tony Leachon, who is a physician and not an infectious disease expert — should be careful about what they say about the vaccine.

The same cautionary advice may be heeded by Public Attorney’s Office chief Persida Acosta and her partner Dr. Edwin Erfe, a criminal forensic and not an epidemiological forensic expert qualified to examine dead victims of dengue.

Acosta and her office are mandated to help citizens in pursuing their criminal complaints but who cannot afford the prohibitive cost of litigation. In this laudable task, however, she might want to stay within her expertise and refrain from purveying alarming misinformation.

(First published in the Philippine STAR of March 13, 2018)

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