UT IN OMNIBUS GLORIFICETUR DEUS.

UT IN OMNIBUS GLORIFICETUR DEUS.

UT IN OMNIBUS GLORIFICETUR DEUS.

UT IN OMNIBUS GLORIFICETUR DEUS.

UT IN OMNIBUS GLORIFICETUR DEUS.

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Swift justice?

Philippine Daily Inquirer/OPINION/by Ma. Ceres P. Doyo

I watched a convicted rapist being killed “slowly and gently” by lethal injection. He was strapped onto a gurney a few meters from the viewing room where we journalists sat. That was after lawmakers had brought back the death penalty (no longer by electrocution but by lethal injection) only for it to be scrapped again in a few years and after about a dozen kills.

I do not want to describe here what it was like before, during and after. Suffice it to say that after witnessing a convict being killed by needle, I do not even want to imagine the carrying out of the death penalty by hanging or beheading, as still practiced in other countries. No matter the heinousness of the convicts’ crimes that deserve the most severe of punishments.

News reports said two days ago that the employers-killers of 29-year-old overseas Filipino worker Joanna Demafelis had been tried in absentia, found guilty and meted out the death penalty by a Kuwaiti court. Demafelis’ killers, who were living in Kuwait and had Joanna in their employ, had left her body in their apartment freezer and fled. The corpse remained frozen for about a year until it was discovered on Feb. 4.

The decision on their guilt was made on first hearing and the penalty would be death by hanging. The Inquirer’s banner headline last Tuesday: “Gov’t welcomes death for PH maid’s killers.” It looked like swift justice but … Where are Demafelis’ killers? News reports say the couple, Lebanese Nader Essam Assaf and his Syrian wife Mouna Hassoun, were arrested on Feb. 24 after an Interpol manhunt. The news media in Lebanon reported that Assaf was in custody pending Kuwait’s request of extradition. Hassoun is reportedly in custody in Syria.

Kuwait and thousands of Kuwait-bound Filipino workers are eager to see the lifting of the ban on OFW deployment to that wealthy Gulf state. The “swift justice” could be Kuwait’s way of mollifying the Philippines’ angry president and Filipinos as well. But until we see the killers manacled and we behold the whites of their eyes, there is no reason to believe that justice is about to be served completely. Until the killer couple are extradited and handed over to the Kuwaiti government, there can be no rejoicing. Rejoicing? In the death penalty?

As to death by hanging or whatever means for Demafelis’ killers—that is, for me, something to think about. The Philippines, like many other countries, has done away with the death penalty even as many of our compatriots in prisons in the Middle East and elsewhere are awaiting death by hanging or beheading. Example: the case of alleged drug courier Mary Jane Veloso whose execution by hanging in Indonesia was stayed at the 11th hour because of the intervention of the Aquino administration. For his efforts, President Benigno Aquino III still got a tongue-lashing and threats from the Veloso family. Not a few have quipped, “Mabitay nga sana (I hope she hangs).”

Those who are against the death penalty, while pleased with Kuwait’s brand of swift justice, can shrug and say, “But that’s how justice works over there.” Paraphrased, it is okay for the convicted couple to hang. I, too, am tempted to cry out: “No mercy.” But I shudder when I think of our convicted OFWs awaiting their own punishment. Might they bear the brunt of the couple’s high-profile hanging? Will international humanitarian groups plead for the guilty couple’s lives? Because the death penalty is to be abhorred, outlawed and erased from the face of the earth?

These many decades of the Philippines’ labor diaspora, many of our OFWs — guilty or innocent — have ended up either hanged or beheaded for crimes they were accused of. Rarely have employers been punished for their crimes against Filipinos. The hanging of Demafelis’ employers would be the first of its kind. If and when …
                                                                 ****
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Thursday, March 22, 2018

OFWs 2018 Via Crucis

Philippine Daily Inquirer/OPINION/by Ma. Ceres P. Doyo

The coming Holy Week puts aside the old devotional prayers and takes the Way of the Cross with the overseas Filipino workers (OFWs). Carry their burden, wear their crown of thorns, drink from their bitter cup, feel the stripes on their backs and the fever on their brows, broil in the desert sand, be tossed at sea, descend to the pit of their loneliness.
For many, the way to overseas jobs is a road to Golgotha, and also an escape from the valley of death back home.
 
1st Station: Jesus is condemned to death
A poor Filipino sells properties, borrows money at high interest rates so he/she could find work abroad.

2nd Station: Jesus carries his cross
The labor recruiter exacts a high fee but the poor worker has no choice. The OFW-to-be leaves carrying with her the burden of the family’s debts. How long will she slave away in loneliness in a foreign land so her family could have a better life? Will she come home to find her family intact?

3rd Station: Jesus falls the first time
A poor, young Filipino woman arrives in a foreign land and she is taken by her strange employer to a place where she finds herself alone, with no one to share her burdens. Held like a virtual prisoner, and with little contact with the outside world, she imagines the worst that could happen to her.
 
4th Station: Jesus meets his mother
Filipino domestic helpers in Hong Kong gather regularly on certain days to seek solace from compatriots. In the Middle East, domestic helpers have no way of getting in touch regularly with other Filipinos.
 
5th Station: Simon of Cyrene helps
Jesus carry his cross Filipinos help other Filipinos who are victims of abuse. Philippine embassies are supposed to be places of refuge, but many OFWs feel that the embassies cannot always be relied upon. Where are you when we need you?

6th Station: Veronica wipes the face of Jesus
Nongovernment organizations, religious groups and women’s centers come to the rescue of OFWs in distress. They provide havens and oases for battered and disease-stricken Filipino workers.

7th Station: Jesus falls the second time
A seaman finds out too late that the salary he is going to receive from his employer is much lower than what was written on the contract.

8th Station: Jesus consoles the women of Jerusalem
Women come to the aid of other women. A runaway domestic worker with burned hands and face tells her rescuers a horrible story of constant battering. Her mind gives way and she is shipped home sans money and sanity.

9th Station: Jesus falls the third time
An OFW is injured in an accident. Because he is an undocumented worker, he finds himself helpless and devoid of any health benefits. He is sent home. A dancer finds herself prostituted and held as a sex slave.

10th Station: Jesus is stripped of his garments
An OFW is accused of committing a crime. Guilty or not, he finds himself stripped of his rights. He has no counsel, he has no visits. He suffers loneliness in a foreign prison.

11th Station: Jesus is nailed on the cross
A maid is pinned on the bed by her male employer and is raped. He does this repeatedly. When she gets pregnant she is sent home with nothing. Elsewhere, a Filipino woman kills her cruel employer and faces a death sentence.

12th Station: Jesus dies on the cross
A Filipino worker is accused of a crime he did not commit. He is detained, tried, convicted and sentenced to die by beheading. He dies alone, unmourned and unsung.

13th Station: Jesus is taken down from the cross
A domestic helper jumps from the window of a fourth-floor apartment to escape the brutality of her employers.

14th Station: Jesus is laid in his tomb
The body of a Filipino domestic worker is found inside a freezer. She had been dead and frozen for over a year. An autopsy reveals telltale signs of cruelty. Her name is Joanna Demafelis.
 
Let us weep. Let us pray. Let us arise.#

Thursday, March 15, 2018

'Batang Kamuning'


Philippine Daily Inquirer/OPINION/by Ma. Ceres P. Doyo

If she should go down, she might as well go down with guns blazing. That is the sense that I get from embattled Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, who recently went on leave after having been advised/pressured by the majority of her colleagues in the Supreme Court.

Everything has been thrown at her but the kitchen sink. The House of Representatives has voted to impeach her and bring her case to the Senate for trial, the outcome of which could be iffy. And so Solicitor General Jose Calida came out of left field by filing a quo warranto motion with the Supreme Court (now without Sereno who is on leave) that could nullify her appointment six years ago in 2012. Which leaves many asking: If Sereno is a high government official with credentials and is being impeached, what is there to nullify? And if her appointment is nullified, who is there to impeach? Oxymoronic?
So gather more ammunition while ye may. Bring the shrinks to the House hearing to rat against her and disclose to the public the results of the psychological tests required by the Judicial and Bar Council, the scrutiny of which, by the way, she had passed. (In last week’s column I wrote about the unethical disclosures and the Psychological Association of the Philippines’ statement.) Sereno went on to become an associate justice of the Supreme Court; she was eventually appointed to its highest post by then President Benigno Aquino III.


The Solgen’s quo warranto motion seeks to nullify her appointment six years ago, with the prescription period conveniently set to have begun only on the date that her qualifying papers were discovered (that is, recently) to be incomplete. Huh!

It all stems from her alleged nonfiling of her statements of assets, liabilities and net worth when she taught at the University of the Philippines. An impeachable offense?

The quo warranto motion and the din from the peanut gallery are supposed to give her an easier way down. But, no way, next option, please. Get the Supreme Court employees and even judges to rally against her. Feigning concern for her, the clutch of red-clad “Sereno Resign” employees say in so many words that she should do herself a favor by not going through the indignity of being pulled down from her perch. The message: We do not like you, you are unpopular. Are we now watching a popularity contest?

Even those unschooled in technical legalities can smell something malodorous. To quote the late human rights lawyer and senator Joker Arroyo on the legal maneuvers of the dictatorship in the days of martial rule and on other such moves: “Like a herring lying in the moonlight, it shines and it stinks.”

The woman wants to fight back. “I will not resign,” Sereno declared in various gatherings—organized mostly by purple-clad militant women’s groups this International Women’s Month—to which she has been invited to speak her mind. Why not? Because, she said, what is being done to her, a chief justice, could be done again and again. Woe to those with weak nerves.

All Sereno and her supporters want is for her to have her day in court. She is raring to face her accusers. Former chief justice Hilario Davide has come out strongly to defend her right to do so. In her Q&A with Inquirer Lifestyle’s Eric Caruncho published two Sundays ago, Sereno spoke about growing up in Kamuning, Quezon City, and how she got enrolled at the expensive Ateneo University under a college scholarship program. (She went to UP for her law degree and graduated at the top of her class.) She referred to herself as “Batang Kamuning,” using street lingo for a kid toughened by his or her environment (as in “Batang City Jail” or “Batang Tondo). Kamuning is not exactly a tough neighborhood, but it is not a gated enclave either.

We citizens now find ourselves in a legal wilderness where might is right. Like a cackle (how scientists call it) of salivating hyenas closing in, Sereno’s adversaries might yet find out how a stricken lioness can spring back and fight to the death.#
 

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Pschologists ratting on a person of interest

 
I was in total shock when I watched on TV a psychologist ratting with unconcealed contempt on Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno at the House committee hearing on the impeachment complaint against her. I use the word “ratting” because, in my view, psychological test results are not to be disclosed in public, more so if these are more than five years old and Sereno got past the scrutiny of the Judicial and Bar Council.
 
I also wonder about the two psychiatrists then employed by the JBC divulging at the House closed session the test results that somehow became fodder for the public ratting.
 
I still have the psychology textbooks we used in graduate school. I pulled out the one we used in our Psychological Testing subject under Fr. Jaime Bulatao,SJ. A section on the “Code of Professional Ethics Pertaining to Psychological Tests” says that “test scores should likewise be released only to persons qualified to interpret them.” Somewhere it also says that “a raw score on any psychological test is, in itself, quite meaningless.”

A psychological test is defined as “essentially an objective and standardized measure of a sample of behavior.”

I did communicate with former officers of the Psychological Association of the Philippines (PAP), among them Dr. Ma. Lourdes Carandang, who found the disclosures at the House hearing “unethical.” The ratting could not add to the impeachment issues against Sereno, but it was meant to destroy, malign and diminish.
The PAP promptly issued a statement dated March 2. Excerpts from “On the Valid and Ethical Use of Psychological Assessments to Evaluate Mental Health” deserve repeating for the ignorant and ill-motivated:
 
“This statement is issued … to inform the public regarding the ethical and valid use of psychological assessments, in response to the recent legislative proceedings that highlight the alleged mental/psychological condition of [CJ] Sereno. The PAP maintains that in giving this statement, the organization is neither supporting nor opposing any position regarding the issues involving CJ Sereno. It only seeks to clarify the function of psychological assessments and the diagnosis of psychological conditions.” (Paid trolls and bashers, take note.)
 
“First, the purpose of psychological assessment is to help understand a person’s functioning in various aspects of life for informed decision making (for example, for job positions) or for treatment planning. Psychological tests are developed and applied via scientific methods, but they are not perfectly accurate. Actual behaviors and performance are more valid than what psychological assessments may predict.
“Second, a psychological assessment is often conducted for a specific purpose, and should only be used for that purpose. To use a psychological assessment conducted in 2012 (which was for the purpose of [CJ] Sereno’s appointment) for the current legislative proceedings is a misuse of those results.
 
“Third, statements that the Chief Justice ‘failed’ the psychological evaluation are misleading, as no one ‘passes’ or ‘fails’ a psychological assessment. Instead, a psychologist recommends a person to a position after the assessment indicates that he/she possesses the characteristics that fit the demands of the given position.
 
“Fourth, decisions and recommendations are derived from psychological assessments that use a combination of methods, such as interview, observation, standardized norm-referenced tests, and relevant informal tools. Good practices entail the application of all these methods, and using only one or two of these methods is inadequate. If a psychologist bases his/her assessment on only one of these methods, or from second-hand reports, then conclusions about ‘mental disturbance’ based on alleged symptoms that indicate such a condition are misleading, if not inaccurate.

“The PAP upholds the dignity of every human being and we reject recent narratives that directly or indirectly use psychological assessments to stigmatize those with mental or psychological conditions. We condemn the unethical practice of using confidential psychological information for purposes of discrediting or damaging a person’s character. Even if psychological test results become public documents (as in marriage annulment cases—CPD), this does not grant permission for anybody to use it for any purpose other than its original intent…"
 
What a disgrace for the psychology profession if practitioners  (with behavioral problems of their own) trot out in public confidential test results that mean little to those with limited understanding of how these are to be interpreted.#

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Journalism in real life and the movies

Philippine Daily Inquirer/OPINION/by Ma. Ceres P. Doyo

I have a copy of Washington Post publisher Katharine Graham’s Pulitzer Prize-winning autobiography “Personal History” (1997), which I had hurriedly bought to read before interviewing her daughter Elizabeth “Lally” Graham Weymouth in 2001. Weymouth was here at that time to interview then President Gloria Arroyo for Newsweek (also a publication of the Washington Post Company) as she had other heads of state.

Inquirer chair Marixi Prieto had arranged for the interview at a hotel lobby. It was short and quick, but it (and reading the book) gave me a glimpse of the storied life of Weymouth’s mother. Two months after the interview, Graham died at the age of 84.
So watching “The Post” directed by Steven Spielberg and starring Meryl Streep (as Graham) and Tom Hanks (as Post executive editor Ben Bradlee) was not at all like knowing about the story for the first time, also because — in an eerie sort of way — something similar had played out in the Philippines before and is again playing out here and now. Although in different magnitudes at different times and circumstances.


Allison Brie played Lally Graham Weymouth who, in the movie, gave her mother a what-to-do-and-not-do list when she entered, for the first time, the lion’s den made up of corporate men.

“The Post” is about Washington Post’s 1971 exposé on the highly classified Pentagon Papers that would throw light on the United States’ involvement and loss in the Vietnam War that was being kept secret while hundreds of thousands of young Americans continued to die in the battlefield. Then President Richard Nixon, like his predecessors, had secrets to keep.

Graham, newly widowed and who took over the helm of the Washington Post, had to contend with her friendship with Defense Secretary Robert McNamara, the Post’s editors and reporters, the company’s overbearing stockholders, as well as a possible lawsuit that could spell the end of the company if the newspaper spilled what was in the Pentagon Papers. The movie draws much from Chapters 21 and 22 of Graham’s 26-chapter autobiography (with photos). The choice was hard but Graham had to make it. The newspaper triumphed, with the Supreme Court upholding the correctness of the paper’s decision to publish.

In her book, Graham quotes a letter from Bradlee: “I’m not sure I could handle another one of these tomorrow, but it is so great to know that this whole newspaper will handle the next one with courage and commitment and style.”

Graham follows with: “Indeed, publishing the Pentagon Papers made future decisions easier, even possible. Most of all it prepared us — and I suspect, unfortunately, Nixon as well — for Watergate.”

Yes, daring, defiant journalism that exposes the truth no matter who is in power has its own redemptive power.

A number of journalism-related movies based on real events have gotten their share of Oscars from the Academy of Motion Picture, Arts and Sciences which is going 90 this year, as well as awards from other bodies. March 4 is the big day and already, “The Post,” Streep in particular (for the nth time in her life), are in the running. In 2016, “Spotlight” which was about Boston Globe’s Spotlight Team that investigated sex abuses in the Church, ran away with the Best Picture award.

The 1976 “All the President’s Men” (starring Dustin Hoffman and Robert Redford as Washington Post reporters Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward, respectively, and Jason Robards as editor Bradlee) which was on the Watergate scandal during the Nixon presidency had its share of awards and nominations from award-giving bodies. The 2017 movie “The Post” is like a prequel to the 1976 movie “All the President’s Men,” the former ending with a hint of the exposé that was to explode next — the Watergate break-in.

The riveting drama in these movies that I see as a journalist consists of the characters, the hidden sources, the legwork, the digging up, the locking horns with publishers and editors, and, of course, the consequences. In real life it is heart-pounding, exhausting, frightening, exhilarating. As one shapes and writes the story in solitude, the characters, living and dead, come to life — to haunt, torment, cast doubt, and also assure. The truth one knows has a way of sneaking back in.#

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Reclaiming public services


Philippine Daily Inquirer/OPINION/by Ma. Ceres P. Doyo

In the country last week were experts who spoke about how public services have been or are being reclaimed by citizens who had been in the grip of private enterprises that made profit out of dispensing public services. The gathering was a good prelude to this week’s activities commemorating 1986 People Power that reclaimed freedom and democracy and ended more than a decade of tyranny and martial rule.

The event was initiated by the Asia Europe Peoples Forum’s Thematic Circle on Social Justice. Founded in 1996, AEPF is an interregional network of people’s movements, trade unions, activists, scholars and parliamentarians in Asia and Europe. I have been in on its activities these many years, attending some of its events here and abroad — how it engages governments in Asia and Europe on issues such as social and economic justice, trade and corporate accountability, climate justice, peace, security, democracy and human rights.

Tackled at the recent event was how public services are increasingly becoming inaccessible to millions worldwide. Healthcare, education, water, electricity, housing and transportation — services indispensable to a life of dignity and security — have become expensive while in private hands and as states continue to cut subsidies.

Privatization, marketization and commodification, AEPF notes, have become conditions imposed by multilateral financial institutions for financially strapped borrower-countries. States relinquish to profit-making private corporations the task and duty to provide public services. Public-private partnerships (PPP) have become the name of the game. Vulnerable sectors such as the unemployed, the sick and elderly, those with disabilities, and ethnic minorities are affected by private-sector takeover.

If the state, the duty bearer, cannot guarantee democratization of public services, what are the “doable alternatives” in which people can take part? How do people “reclaim” the services that the state is supposed to deliver? (I could not help thinking of the almost-daily multiple breakdown of the MRT system on Edsa, the metro’s main artery, which hundreds of thousands distressed commuters navigate daily.)

The “reclaim” concept is not new and has not remained a concept. It is, in fact, doable, as proven by successful cases in countries where people’s resolve and participation made them possible. Speakers at the gathering shared their experiences and insights.

The research and advocacy group Transnational Institute (TNI) has recorded at least 835 examples of what it calls “(re)municipalization of public services” worldwide in recent years, which involved more than 1,600 cities in 45 countries. TNI uses “(re)municipalization” to refer to “the process of bringing previously private or privatized services which are under private control and management at the local level.” Other newly coined terms are “renationalization” and “deprivatization.” The latter is “an overarching term for remunicipalization, renationalization and citizen-led reclaiming of public services, all of which are oriented towards fighting against the ills of privatization.”

To cite a few cases: In Oslo, Norway, waste collection was taken from a service provider and remunicipalized in 2017. In 2015, the government of the newly elected Aam Aadmi Party in Delhi, India, began delivering on its promises of affordable healthcare by putting up 1,000 community clinics.

Grenoble (France) became a pioneer in water remunicipalization when it ended a corrupt contract with a multinational provider in the early 2000s. In Lithuania, central heating was remunicipalized after investigation showed manipulation of heating prices.

The book “Reclaiming Public Services: How cities and citizens are turning back privatisation” (2017), edited by Satoko Kishimoto and Olivier Petitjean, is a great reference for “untold stories” on reclaiming successes.

Ongoing beside the People Power Monument on Edsa are round-the-clock, nine-day fasting and prayer activities, called “Dasal at Ayuno Laban sa ChaCha, Para sa Demokrasya: Pagaamin, Pagtitika, Pagbabago at Pagkakaisa.” It is led by Gomburza, a group of priests, religious and lay people who believe in prayer and action to make this country a better place for all.

Join the prayers and reflections at any time of day or night. The activities end before noon of Feb. 25, the 32nd anniversary of People Power. I was present at the Feb. 22, 1986, breakaway press conference in Camp Aguinaldo and the rest of the days that spelled the beginning of the end.#

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Dead in the freezer

 
"Dead in the water” is an expression that refers to something bereft of any outcome or future, like a crippled ship with nowhere to go but the dark depths below. In politics, it would apply to bills killed before they could see the light of day. And because yesterday was Valentine’s Day and also Ash Wednesday, the phrase might well apply to a starting fire reduced to a pile of ashes before it had a chance to become a lovely conflagration.
 
Seriously, the phrase kept repeating itself in my mind. “Dead in the water” and “dead in the freezer” do rhyme, I thought to myself, while wrapping my head around what happened to a Filipino domestic helper in Kuwait, Joanna Demafelis, whose corpse — ice-hard and preserved — was found in a freezer.
 
“Dead in the freezer” could well be an expression to refer to what could happen to overseas Filipino workers bent on setting off to parts unknown, aka the Middle East, where many of our compatriots suffer unspeakable cruelty in the hands of their employers who are also Muslims.
 
In using the expression, I am not trivializing the plight of the likes of Demafelis. I am, in fact, livid with rage. But I am not hearing about such a case for the first time, someone might tell me. I say, first time or not, my rage is undiminished. But yes, this is the first time we learn about a dead OFW found inside a freezer. But not the first time about fly-by-night recruiters and neglectful government agencies.

As a journalist, I have written a number of feature stories on OFWs — from an abused Filipino domestic helper who killed a Saudi princess to the so-called “japayukis” to the spouses and children they have left behind, etc. I had thought of putting these OFW stories between covers, but I later decided on a variety of stories instead.
 
We will keep on telling the stories until there are no more. Centuries from now, when Filipinos in the Philippines have long enjoyed living in a different country of the same name (and the descendants of Filipinos in the diaspora as well) and they read about OFWs, they might find themselves shedding tears over the travails of their ancestors. Like we do when we read Carlos Bulosan’s “America is in the Heart.”
 
As I said, I again find myself wrapping my head around the abuses committed against OFWs, the domestic workers particularly, and I ask: What is it about them, how are they regarded, and why are they treated with such cruelty? But even more importantly, what is it about their employers that they must subject their household workers to such habitual abuse? There is in many of them the intent, the habit, to inflict suffering. What kind of human beings are they? How do they regard those in their household employ? As slaves?
 
Some things need to be said. I might have reason to believe that the employers who are Muslims regard non-Muslims in their employ as unbelievers, infidels and therefore worthy to be exterminated or wiped off the face of the earth. A mindset? Am I right or am I right? Somebody should write a dissertation on why I should not think so. And don’t bring up the Crusades because we now have the International Declaration on Human Rights.
 
In the case of Demafelis’ employers, a Syrian-Lebanese couple living in Kuwait and who left the country a year ago after stuffing her corpse in the freezer, I presume they are Muslims. If proven guilty they deserve the worst punishment that the Koran prescribes for those who kill helpless innocents. Hey, there is no paradise and waiting virgins for you
both.
 
I do not delight in listening to President Duterte’s trash talk but if there was a time that I wish he had cussed more than he did, it was when he spoke about Demafelis’ fate and called the Kuwaiti government to account for the abuses committed against OFWs. >:*#&X?!< That many OFWs are driven to end their misery by jumping off high-rise buildings is proof of their loneliness and helplessness aggravated by constant abuse.#

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Vaccine phobia; Flavier on my mind

Philippine Daily Inquirer/OPINION/by Ma. Ceres P. Doyo

The bag of excrement has hit the ceiling fan. Vaccine phobia and a lynch mob, just to name a few toxic concerns, have been spawned, virus-like, because of the Senate and House hearings these past weeks on the Dengvaxia vaccine controversy and fueled by other motivated parties. Pardon the mixed metaphors.

While the continuing hearings on the antidengue vaccine manufactured by French big pharma Sanofi Pasteur are shedding light on the why, who, where, when, how and how much (with all the blame-throwing and finger-pointing), these have also generated misplaced panic among the populace. Add to these the seemingly “differently motivated” parties who delight in arousing strong emotions among the already worried parents whose children, either seropositive or seronegative, have been given the vaccine, some completely (in three doses) and others not.

One thing is a success — the rousing of fear for anything spelled v-a-c-c-i-n-e. The panic arose from the reported 14 deaths out of more than 830,000 vaccinated, deaths which have yet to be directly attributed to Dengvaxia.

No less than Health Secretary Francisco Duque III has called for sobriety, noting with concern that even deworming is now looked upon with suspicion. Good thing that Duque, also a health secretary during the Arroyo administration, is not the type to grandstand, sow distrust, or throw mud at his immediate predecessors to make pogi points for himself.

"It behooves us to allow only evidence-based information to influence decisions,” Duque said at the hearing two days ago. I caught Sen. JV Ejercito saying we should “bring back the confidence” in vaccination programs. It’s the right thing to say while the ceiling fan is spreading the sh*t.

This is not to say there is no one to blame. There are many, Sanofi Pasteur among them. But the toxic thing about it is how the situation is being exploited to create another situation—that of panic, genuine or feigned, for some ulterior purpose.

Gee, I really miss the late former-health-secretary-turned-senator Juan “Let’s DOH it!” Flavier’s down-home wisdom and folksy humor. What questions would he ask at the Senate inquiry? What would he tell the protagonists, the antagonists, the rabble-rousers? An expert in public health and a communication whiz who had spent much of his life as a doctor in the grassroots sector, he always had a gem of a thought for every situation.

To detoxify and make myself smile, I pulled out one of Flavier’s seven books (all autographed). Here is his “Parable of the Diagnoses” to learn from. (I had to delete the next half of this column to give it space.)

“Three barrio albularyos sat together exchanging experiences, recent cases and sure-fire treatments. Soon their conversation shifted to bragging about their special abilities to diagnose patients just by looking at them.

"An elderly woman who overheard their claims had an excellent suggestion. ‘There is a man walking slowly towards us with a peculiar gait, holding his waist. You each state your diagnosis and then we can verify directly with him what ails him. Then we will know who made the best diagnosis.’ The albularyos agreed and observed the approaching man.

“The first albularyo decided fast. ‘He has a stomach ache. Look at the way he holds his waist.’ The second then announced his own diagnosis.

“No, not stomach ache. He has a back ache because of his hunched appearance.’ The third was ready with his own pronouncement. ‘You are both wrong. He is suffering from rheumatism of the right knee. Notice how he limps.’

“Soon the man was just across from them. The woman asked him: ‘Ano ho ang nararamdaman ninyo? May sakit ba kayo?’ “The man looked surprised and straightened up. ‘Wala ho akong nararamdaman. At lalo namang wala akong sakit. Papunta lang ako sa palikuran para dumumi.’

“All three men could not help laughing at their wrong presumptions. The elderly woman admonished them: ‘Kaya kayo, sa uli uli ay huwag gamut nang gamut. Tanungin muna ang dinaramdam ng pasyente para malaman ang sakit. Ganoon din sa nayon, huwag paunlad nang paunlad ng proyekto. Tanungin muna ang suliranin at pangangailangan ng tao.’”

I say, wise woman.#