POSTSCRIPT / August 2, 2020 / Sunday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Duterte to save us with petrol, vaccine

WE want to stay calm, and alive, while awaiting our deliverance from the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic with the help of a vaccine that President Duterte said had been promised by his friend from China, but we still catch ourselves worrying.

We can’t help being somewhat skeptical because, to be honest, we sometimes wonder if the President is up to the job. We find some of his utterances and actions more alarming than assuring.

Last time we saw him on TV, for instance, he was saying that he meant it when he advised the public earlier to wash or disinfect their face masks with gasoline! He brushed aside his spokesman’s hurried explanation that the President was just joking.

Seeing Duterte having a hard time expressing himself, we half-expected him to demonstrate what he meant by gargling with gasoline before the TV camera. Even such an antic, we have to point out, won’t convince most of the cynics.

He reiterated the assurance that he made Monday in his state of the nation address that a vaccine would be available soon, probably by December, and that China was kind enough to include the Philippines in its priority distribution list.

There are more than a dozen pharma entities in the world racing to mass-produce a safe and effective vaccine. The latest report we’ve read said the earliest that such a vaccine can be market-ready is next year, not by December in the Chinese calendar.

We waited in vain for the President to explain if the vaccine that China President Xi Jinping promised him would be a final product ready for the mass market or one still needing further testing on humans.

In other words, we wanted to know if Filipinos would be vaccinated a la “guinea pigs” or as beneficiaries of a final product approved for the global market.

We think that Filipinos would be assured of the vaccine’s reliability if Duterte led the first vaccinees, followed by Health Secretary Francisco Duque, presidential spokesman Harry Roque and the members of the task force managing the COVID-19 program.

In securing a vaccine, will Duterte be guided by geopolitics or by medical science? The sourcing will be an interesting issue as informal polling has shown that a great number of Filipinos will hesitate to be injected a vaccine made in China if there are other choices.

Duterte said that the poor, who will be vaccinated first, will get it for free. He added that the government has the estimated $400 million needed to buy supplies for 20 million Filipinos. Depending on what type of vaccine it would be, it may come in two doses per person.

Beijing saw how Duterte swallowed the bait in his first visit there in 2016 when Xi hypnotized him with promises of massive aid, loans and investments (mostly not yet delivered). Xi knows that while awaiting the promised vaccine, Duterte would be on good behavior.

Having no wholistic anti-COVID action plan and a clear post-pandemic rehabilitation strategy, Duterte is relying heavily on the vaccine to salvage his lack of direction.

In his SONA, the President went out of his way to highlight China’s promise of a vaccine – and fattened the PR job with a rather irrelevant notice that he was against the United States using a naval base in Subic Bay.

After Duterte’s special mention of China’s vaccine offer and his publicly ruling out the putting up of a US naval base, Beijing promptly showered him with praise and patted his head.

But between now and the arrival of the prophylactic vaccine, what is being done to cure the more than 98,000 Filipinos already infected and to prevent the spread of the deadly virus leaping out of the relaxed quarantine?

The Department of Health has reported an upsurge of infection as hospitals start running out of beds. The pressure on resources will rise as quarantine is eased to force more human activity and stimulate the sluggish economy.

Recorded COVID deaths as of July 31 totaled 2,023. Experts from the University of the Philippines and University of Santo Tomas said that at the rate the coronavirus has been surging, cases could reach 150,000, with 3,000 deaths, by Aug. 31.

• China hits Locsin for asserting PCA ruling

HAS Foreign Secretary Teddy Locsin Jr. been talking with the President lately? He has been saying a few remarkable things defending Philippine interests but these have elicited undiplomatic reactions from friends of the administration.

China blasted Locsin on Monday for saying that the 2017 ruling by the Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague upholding several submissions of the Philippines against China was “non-negotiable” with no possibility of “compromise” or “change.”

Locsin said, correctly, that certain actions of China within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone have “violated the Philippines’ sovereign rights and were thus unlawful.”

Another time, Locsin’s tweet about Sabah, a corner of Borneo owned by the Sultanate of Sulu but included by Malaysia into its federation in 1963, drew a sharp retort from Kuala Lumpur. Locsin summoned the Malaysian ambassador to explain his government’s reaction.

The PCA award rejected a claim of China over 88 percent of the South China Sea, including sections in Philippine waters, that Beijing had arbitrarily enclosed in its “nine-dash line” over an area dotted with isles and protrusions claimed by its neighbors.

In his meetings with China’s Xi Jinping, Duterte has refrained from raising the PCA award after the Chinese leader hinted at warlike repercussions if the Philippines insisted on invoking the ruling based on the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

The Chinese embassy in Manila said: “China and the Philippines have already reached consensus on properly handling the so-called arbitration case, which has laid down solid ground for the turning-around of bilateral relations.”

(First published in the Philippine STAR of August 2, 2020)

* * *

Dear Sir Pascual, Without (truly, not manipulated) adequate trials, vaccines are inherently dangerous and, perhaps, even lethal (as seen in the Dengvaxia fiasco). Proper trial means testing it not only for effectivity but for drug interactions vs all possible permutations and combinations that people are taking (especially maintenance medications, which is the "popular" things nowadays) — not to mention a substantial amount of test subjects (and must be double-blind). It takes only one adverse drug interaction to kill. Stay safe, wash hands, wear glasses/goggles, wear face masks (but only when in close proximity to others)... Think about it...how many drugs are there in the market?

Edgar

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