POSTSCRIPT / March 23, 2021 / Tuesday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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Du30 order awaited on Sino militia ships

HOW will President Duterte, a good friend of China President Xi Jinping, handle the dilemma between accepting Xi’s donation of COVID-19 vaccines and asking for the withdrawal of the offensive swarm of Chinese militia ships in the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone?

Before we could hear from the Commander-in-Chief, Foreign Secretary Teddy Locsin Jr. said Sunday he had fired off a protest over the presence of the Chinese vessels at the Julian Felipe Reef (Whitsun Reef) in the West Philippine Sea.

The reef, located within the country’s EEZ and continental shelf, lies northeast of Pagkakaisa Banks and Reefs (Union Reefs) some 175 nautical miles west of Bataraza, Palawan.

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, for his part, said Sunday that the presence of Chinese militia boats in the reef area is a “clear provocative action of militarizing the area.”

“We call on the Chinese to stop this incursion and immediately recall these boats violating our maritime rights and encroaching into our sovereign territory,” he said, citing international law and the 2016 ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague.

Locsin has confirmed that National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. recommended the filing of the diplomatic protest.

In a tweet Sunday, Locsin said: “I got the coordinates, so to speak. And relayed to my legal artillery, ‘Fire at will.’ Shell should be flying at first light. I don’t usually announce maneuvers but it seems everybody is baring his chest.”

Rendered sleepless, we wondered if this is “touch-move” chess that our intrepid diplomats and generals are now playing — knowing the “urong-sulong” style of Dutertic governance.

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JOINING the game, the armed forces through its spokesperson, Major Gen. Edgard Arevalo, said: “The AFP will not renege from our commitment to protect and defend our maritime interest within the bounds of the law.”

Article II (Declaration of Principles) of the Constitution says in Section 3: “xxx The Armed Forces of the Philippines is the protector of the people and the State. Its goal is to secure the sovereignty of the State and the integrity of the national territory.”

At this point, it seems that the only big missing part in the rising chorus is Duterte’s marching order. Also being awaited by us kibitzers is any official word from Washington. Of course.

President Duterte has said often enough that it was not a good idea to move (or even speak) against China on the West Philippine Sea dispute and risk igniting a war the Philippines cannot win.

But some Dutertic policy elements may have changed in this time of the pandemic or of political panic.

 Discordant notes in Covid symphony

ON Saturday, the number of new COVID-19 infections was reported at 7,999! Seeing such uncharacteristic precision, skeptics wondered if one or two positive tests were excluded just to avoid a shocking 8,000-high count that day.

Soon after, some discordant notes were heard in the vaccination symphony being orchestrated by health authorities and military-led task forces.

This story tagged “Maddening!!” was shared by our businessman-friend Elmer about an angry post reportedly from the private sector group that had offered to buy their own vaccines to help lighten the burden on the government:

“Another single-day record for new COVID-19 cases was set today, with 7,999 new cases being reported, and the end doesn’t seem in sight amidst the incompetence of this country’s leaders, particularly those tasked with managing this unprecedented scourge.

“To give one an idea of why the much-awaited vaccines have not come despite initiatives made as early as late last year by the private sector when it became apparent that the government would make its purchases much later, here’s a story relayed by an insider in a recent meeting spearheaded by Go Negosyo about the vaccines (with edits for more clarity):

“Today is a very upsetting day after attending the Go Negosyo-led Zoom meeting for private-sector partners for vaccines. TLDR: The national government is essentially doing NOTHING for us regarding vaccines.

“1. The government, in late 2020, BANNED (underscoring ours) the private sector from getting vaccines on its own. Then the government proceeded to fail to secure a national supply for the Filipino population.

“2. In January, upon the initiative of Go Negosyo, the private sector got the government to agree to a 50-50 deal, where large and medium-sized companies could negotiate with AstraZeneca to bring in doses, but all under DoH control. LGUs were allowed to secure their own supply (erratum: I was informed that LGUs still had to go through the DoH). I was very skeptical because it’s a pure gamble on whether or not the DoH would actually allocate you anything if you participate in this program. Go Negosyo’s line was: ‘Just trust in the DoH.’

3. Today, March 17, I attended a Zoom call midway and found out that Go Negosyo introduced Zuellig Pharma as a service provider. This is for taking care of the vaccines from end-to-end, all the way to administering it to the employees of the different private-sector companies when they arrive.

“So wala palang gagawin yung DoH. The entire chain from arrival at the port, storage, app development for registration, securing several sites for the dose-administration infrastructure would be managed by Zuellig and other medical companies, these companies taking charge of the ad hoc purely private sector-led infrastructure for getting the vaccines in our arms.

“What pisses me off so much is hinarang na tayo from getting our own supply, and government officials said they wanted to take control. Then when the vaccines were slated to arrive in the coming months – because planning and setting up the infrastructure would take months, something that was delayed because the DoH said it would take charge of all this – the DoH would be basically a no-show and turned out to have no plan. So Joey Concepcion – bless his soul – now sees this coming train wreck and musters private-sector participants (yet again) to match with a service provider so that the vaccines are not spoiled when they finally arrive.”

(First published in the Philippine STAR of March 23, 2021)

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