Thursday, January 25, 2018

The forgotten mosquito

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

I have this caricature in my head showing lawmakers, other government officials, health experts, big pharma, worried parents and other persons of interest exchanging barbs at a Senate hearing over the antidengue vaccination program that went awry. They are at one another’s throat over the what, where, who, when, why, how, and how much.

Separately, in another box of the cartoon, are deadly dengue mosquitoes in a huddle and plotting their next biting spree that would spread the virus and cause illness and death. “They are not talking about us,” the head mosquito tells the swarm.
The Senate inquiry into the Dengvaxia vaccine administered to hundreds of thousands of schoolchildren and its possible ill effects on the seronegative ones (those who have not been exposed to the dengue virus) is not quite over. Neither are the outcry, the blame-throwing, and the finger-pointing. Fears have not been assuaged. The staggering amount of money spent for the vaccine from French pharmaceutical giant Sanofi Pasteur has yet to be fully recovered.

It is all about the vaccine, the money gone down the drain, and the vaccinated children on whom the vaccine might not work and which might even make them sicker if dengue strikes. All but forgotten is the female dengue mosquito that transmits the virus through its bite.

About a dozen vaccinated seronegative children have reportedly died but their deaths have not been conclusively and solely attributed to Dengvaxia itself, but to some preexisting health condition. And if they died because of dengue itself, then the vaccine did not work for them (as expected) and made their condition worse?

In the case of the seropositive ones who had been previously exposed to dengue, the group supposed to benefit from Dengvaxia’s protection if at all, were there deaths because of dengue? If there were, this means Dengvaxia did not protect them at all?

Questions arose because of Sanofi’s own announcement late last year that Dengvaxia might (or would?) cause some adverse effects on seronegative children who were vaccinated. What parent would not raise a howl? And there were questions, too, on why Sanofi’s announcement was phrased in an alarming way — and was it therefore a case of “lost in translation” or a communication fiasco? I have always been wary of big pharma.

At the latest Senate hearing former health secretary Enrique Ona said that were he in charge in 2016 he would not have allowed immunization on such a massive scale. He cited a 2015 New England Journal of Medicine editorial titled “A candidate dengue vaccine walks a tightrope.” And so the onus was on his successor, Janette Garin, who implemented the P3.5-billion program in 2016.

After Sanofi’s announcement last month, the vaccination program was stopped. But the question remains: What prompted the Department of Health to hurry with the immunization in 2016? The then approaching 2016 national elections is now being factored in by former health secretary Paulyn Ubial, who has been replaced by Francisco Duque, himself a health secretary several presidents ago. Duque stays cool and invokes “prudence and due diligence” where the lives of children are concerned.

Question: Had massive immunization (which was there to offer) not been implemented, and there happened to be a massive dengue outbreak at that time, with casualties in its wake, would the sin of omission or indecisiveness be cited against the incumbents then? As in, many lives could have been saved, illness and death could have been prevented, all the expense could have been worth it. But that was not the case. The immunization program pushed through and a new scenario came into view: possible severe dengue cases among the seronegatives who had Dengvaxia injections.

For those in charge, it’s damned if you didn’t, damned if you did. Still, there were lessons learned. Meanwhile, the female aedes aegypti mosquito rules. It is the species of mosquito that carries dengue, chikungunya and yellow fever viruses. The mosquito bites a dengue-infected person, becomes a carrier, and when it again bites, the virus is transmitted, and so on and so forth. Anything being done in mosquito country?

Thursday, January 18, 2018

'Je suis' Rappler

If our colleagues in the frontline of public debate do not take the risk, then the barbarians have won.” That is a French woman journalist speaking in the documentary on the mass shooting of the staff of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo carried out by terrorists in Paris in January 2015.
The administration has made good its threat against Rappler, the online news and investigative media platform that has been critical of the Duterte presidency (oh, but that is not all it does). How? Citing foreign ownership, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) is revoking Rappler’s certificate of incorporation. Which means Rappler is no longer licensed to operate. Which means Rappler would be shut up and shut down.
“Harassment!” Rappler cried. For Rappler there is still time and a chance for appeal and prove the accusation wrong — that Rappler is, in fact, owned by Filipinos.

Although there has always been a proverbial sword hanging over Rappler these past many months, the SEC’s shocker three days ago still caught many by surprise. But after surveying the sorry landscape littered with rolling heads from various agencies (as in the cases of Commission on Higher Education Chair Patricia Licuanan and of two in the Human Rights Victims’ Claims Board), many of us, stunned and angry, can only interject: It was to be expected; the iron hand has unsheathed the sword.

Like wildfire the news spread and soon social media was fast sprouting memes.
Remember #iameverywoman after the slew of sexist presidential verbal attacks on women? And on the global scene, the Je suis Charlie (I am Charlie) cry after the terrorist attack on the French publication Charlie Hebdo that killed 12, eight of them journalists.
A journalist-friend had gifted me with the publication “I Am Charlie: Editorial Cartoonists Honor Free Speech” that came out after the 2015 Paris tragedy. On the cover is a caricature of New York’s Statue of Liberty (a 1880s gift from the French people) wearing a black Je suis Charlie T-shirt and holding high, not her torch, but a pen.
Most of the 47 cartoons from 22 countries in “I Am Charlie” show pens, pencils and paint brushes as “deadly weapons” against extremists, despots and tyrants. One shows a huge pen planted on a dead armalite-wielding terrorist. On the pen are the words: “This machine kills fascists. Je suis Charlie.”
The other day, I took out a black T-shirt I have kept all these years. On it is a white drawing of an antique typewriter and the words, “VINCIT OMNIA VERITAS.” Truth conquers all. I photographed it and posted it on Facebook to add to the uproar over the Rappler case. I still have my vintage 1980s “Stop Harassing Journalists” T-shirt and two patches embroidered with “Don’t Shoot Journalists.” Relics of the past they are, indeed.
Journalism was under siege during the Marcos dictatorship and many of us fought hard, sometimes with risk to our personal lives. But there was no blocking the truth completely. There was the so-called mosquito press, publications from the church sector — “The Communicator,” “Various Issues,” “Signs of the Times,” “Ichthys.” Threaten one and two would sprout up, like wild mushrooms in a thunderstorm.
Remember how the Inquirer was being killed through an ad boycott in 2000, at the behest of the short-lived plunderous Estrada presidency? The Elvis look-alike president ended up doing “Jailhouse Rock.”

Je suis Rappler could well be our collective battle cry. If the administration succeeds for now in bringing Rappler to its knees, Rappler will surely rise again.  And how. Je suis Rappler!
On the bright side, Gawad Kalinga (GK) is holding its fifth Social and Business Summit (Jan. 19-21) at its 43-hectare Enchanted Farm in Bulacan. Participants from different sectors will learn from one another.
Enchanted Farm is GK’s platform to raise social entrepreneurs, help local farmers, and create wealth in the countryside. GK is a nongovernment organization that pioneered in fast-tracking massive housing projects for the poor, but its founder Antonio Meloto believes that providing homes (hundreds of thousands) is merely a beginning on the road out of poverty, and that the country’s wealth of resources can be harnessed further so that every Filipino may live a life of dignity.#



Thursday, January 11, 2018

"Tectonic shift'

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

The 65th Golden Globe Awards three days ago was like no other because of the color, tone and theme that its black-clad participants pushed, which was “Time’s Up.” Time’s up for those who sexually harass women, time to speak out openly and condemn and expose. Black said it loud.

Oprah Winfrey, media giant (producer, talk show host, actress), received the Cecil B. DeMille Lifetime Award — the first black woman to be given such an honor. She spoke, and the people in the audience rose to applaud. What she said has gone viral on social media but, as always, not everybody is happy for what was said or not said.

Winfrey is criticized for having compared — but did she? — the “black women’s Jim Crow era rape to that of rich white women’s #MeToo” in Hollywood and business. That is, there is no way to compare the two and that she shouldn’t have done so. Writer Charlie Peach pointed out the gaps in Winfrey’s speech and gave more that the world should know about the plight of black women. Well, thanks for all that.

But I read the transcript of Winfrey’s speech and I could not see how or where she was comparing the two eras and the women who were victimized and their victimizers. She was simply presenting cases in a bygone era to emphasize her point. That Winfrey is a black woman billionaire (having risen from an impoverished background) does not mean she has lost the feel for her roots. That she is now touted as a presidential contender is another story.

For this Asian in Southeast Asia, I thought Winfrey’s speech immensely helped in further stoking the fire. Whatever she did not say in those few minutes on stage, whatever blanks there were could be filled up by others in, say, books and books and books and other media.

In Asia, South Asia especially, women do not only get raped, they also get doused with kerosene and set on fire by their husbands and even by their female in-laws. If they survive, they are scarred and disfigured for life, both physically and emotionally.

Yes, there is also no way to compare even loosely the “rich white women’s #MeToo” in corporate and Hollywood’s America with Asian women’s experience of sexual violence. But I thought Winfrey’s message, constrained as it was by time and place, is true and acceptable in different contexts—and it helps if one knew where she is coming from.

Earlier, Time magazine honored the “Silence Breakers” as the publication’s 2017 Persons of the Year, women who exposed sexual assault and harassment. So every act that goes in the direction of women’s freedom from violence and discrimination is a step in the right direction, an affirmation.

I liked what Winfrey said about the media which is her turf: “I want to thank the Hollywood Foreign Press Association because we all know the press is under siege these days. We also know it’s the insatiable dedication to uncovering the absolute truth that keeps us from turning a blind eye to corruption and to injustice. To … to tyrants and victims, and secrets and lies. I want to say that I value the press more than ever before as we try to navigate these complicated times, which brings me to this: What I know for sure is that speaking your truth is the most powerful tool we all have. And I’m especially proud and inspired by all the women who have felt strong enough and empowered enough to speak up and share their personal stories. Each of us in this room is celebrated because of the stories that we tell, and this year we became the story.”

This year’s “stories” being the women’s stories about sexual harassment and abuse. So, yes to storytelling! We journalists are more than just reporters and feature writers. We are storytellers.

The Globes’ best actress for drama, Frances McDormand (of “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” which won as Best Picture), found the right words: “It’s great to be here and be part of the tectonic shift in our industry’s power structure.”

Hyperbolic though it may sound, the tectonic shift is real. Feel the earth move.#

Thursday, January 4, 2018

SOS for police's mistaken targets

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

Police cordon off the crime scene around the corner of Shaw Boulevard and Old Wack Wack Road (Photo by JUSTIN PUNSALANG / Radyo Inquirer)
I was a Girl Scout so I know that in Morse code, SOS is …—… . It is a distress signal. The three letters do not stand for anything (not for “save our ship” or “save our souls”) except to call for help. (More later.)

What do you do if you find yourself in the crosshairs of armed law enforcers and you do not know why, you have not broken the law, and are not in the company of felons? You are not a bystander in the crossfire, you are mistaken prey.

This is what happened in Mandaluyong City a few days after Christmas Day, news reports of which have clearly shown that the “kill, kill, kill” mindset of cops and barangay tanod (village watchmen) are not figments of one’s cinematic imagination. Picture a car full of people rushing a woman with a gunshot wound to a hospital mistaken as a vehicle with armed criminals on board, chased and repeatedly shot at. Even without return fire from the car being pursued, the firing continued.

When the smoke cleared, two passengers were dead and several badly wounded. At least 36 empty shells and slugs were recovered from the scene, a number of them fired by the tanod who shouldn’t be armed.

While there are rules of engagement for cops in hot pursuit or involved in shootouts and the like, what are innocents who suddenly find themselves prey supposed to do to save their lives? Earthquake drills and bad weather warnings we have plenty of to prepare ourselves for the worst. (None for nuclear fallout so far.)

We even have warnings for “carmaggedon” (traffic gridlock) and how-tos in case of fire, flood, dengue fever, etc. For drivers, we have defensive driving. But as the police’s mistaken target, none, nada, zilch, wala.

Criminals on the run and who fight back are on their own, but if unarmed or surrendering, they are not supposed to be killed. Though that is not how it has been in the past one-and-a-half years in the Duterte Wild West. Consider the alleged 12,000-plus drug-related kills, both by cops and by unknown assailants. But that is another story.

The Mandaluyong case is another territory. It did not seem to be a drug-related one; the victims were not pursued because they were on the drug list or even maliciously listed. The police and the tanod—more than 10 of them—simply acted on somebody’s say-so. And so what happened happened.

“Ayan na nga ba, eh,” could be our collective refrain, which translates roughly to: “But of course, it was waiting to happen. Ilonggos would say “TĂȘ?” and Bicolanos “Nem …” with the proper inflection or tone of voice to convey a variety of meanings.

No ill intent, Philippine National Police Director General Ronald dela Rosa said of his men’s foul-up in Mandaluyong. Metro Manila police chief Oscar “Accordingly” Albayalde was sufficiently incensed and promptly investigated the cops involved.

So how do we innocents protect ourselves when we find ourselves becoming prey and in the police crosshairs? Shouldn’t we — or the police — provide some dos and don’ts for us innocents who might find ourselves the object of police pursuit? Even suspects on the run are given fair warning—to go down on their knees, with their hands up or on their heads. (I’ve been watching too many real-life “COPS” shows on cable TV.) Not quite so in “Oplan Tokhang.”

As I said, I was a Girl Scout so I know that SOS in Morse code is …—… and the signal can be sent as sound or light. Because I drive, I thought a distress signal can be sent repeatedly using the car horn—three short sounds, three long, three short—or using the headlights. Do not use a flashlight because the light could be mistaken as gunfire.

Have a white hankie or tissue to wave as a no-fight, give-up sign. Do not dash out of the car or you might perish in a hail of bullets.

I ask the police authorities: What else can you suggest that we can all agree upon and that bumbling, trigger-happy cops can understand? These …—…, …—…, …—…? And more. #