NEWS IN FOCUS / January’s blasts: Dengvaxia, Cha-Cha, firings, Rappler, and Mayon Volcano
January opened with a growing frequency of reports on child deaths that the Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption (VACC) attributed to Dengvaxia—the first anti-dengue vaccine in the world developed by French pharmaceutical firm Sanofi Pasteur.
Dengvaxia translated into a P3.5 billion massive dengue immunization program of the Department of Health during the closing months of the Aquino administration.
The program was suspended by the Duterte government after Sanofi announced that the vaccine could worsen the disease in cases involving people who have not been previously infected with dengue.
As early as December, the VACC had urged the Justice Department to set a probe on Dengvaxia.
By January 2, the VACC reported the case of 10-year-old Christian Mae de Guzman, a resident of Bataan and the first child who died six months after being inoculated with Dengvaxia.
Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said there was still no link between the dengue shock that caused the deaths of 14 more children and Dengvaxia.
Duque said the Health Department is still studying clinical records.
Sanofi Pasteur, in mid-January, announced that it had agreed to refund the cost of the unused vials of Dengvaxia still in the possession of the government public vaccination program.
Duque has said the government would ask for a full refund of the P3.5 billion used by the Aquino administration to purchase the vaccine.
BLESSING, CURSE, & MAYON VOLCANO
President Rodrigo Duterte began the first week of the New Year with a pay hike blessing for cops and soldiers, and a curse for allegedly erring public officials.
On January 1, Duterte adjusted the compensation package for military and uniformed personnel “to make it more commensurate with their critical role in maintaining national security and peace and order.”
Three days later, on January 4, he fired Maritime Industry Authority (Marina) administrator Marcial Amaro III.
The Chief Executive, according to Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque, had acted on the complaint made by Marina employees who claimed that Amaro was an absentee administrator, reportedly making 24 foreign trips in just 18 months.
Word of more firings were followed by the resignation of Commission on Higher Education (CHEd) chairperson Patricia Licuanan on January 15 and the 90-day suspension of Deputy Ombudsman Melchor Arthur Carandang on January 30.
Nature, too, was fired up. On January 22, Albay province in the Bicol region saw the eruption of Mayon Volcano.
Spewing ash, lava and pyroclastic material, Mayon’s location became a source of fun for many netizens after Mocha Uson, assistant secretary of the Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO), made the mistake of saying that Mayon was in Naga province.
As the nation went into shock over Denvaxia and awe at Duterte’s swift executive decisions, debates flew thick and fast in Congress over the issue of Charter Change a.k.a. Federalism.
First to come were the bold assertions from the Lower House: Duterte term extension beyond 2022 if the country becomes a federal state; “no election” scenario in May 2019; and the Lower House push for a Constituent Assembly without the participation of the Senate.
House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez said that if Senate would not budge, the House would take the matter to the Supreme Court.
Both Houses finally resolved their differences by agreeing to first settle the structure of government under a new constitution before settling the manner of voting on amendments.
During the last week of January, President Duterte appointed 19 members of a 24-member consultative committee headed by former Chief Justice Reynato Puno. Their task: to amend the 1987 Constitution. Opposition lawmakers welcomed the creation of a consultative committee.
FAITH, RATINGS & RAPPLER
Millions of Filipinos took their troubles to the Black Nazarene in the first two weeks of January.
Celebrating its 410th anniversary, between 15 million to 19 million Catholic faithful made their annual pilgrimage to Quiapo Church in Manila, beginning in a Marian procession on January 1 until the final, Traslacion procession on January 9.
The second week of January was similarly a cause for celebration for President Duterte as Pulse Asia released their Fourth Quarter 2017 Ulat sa Bayan Survey, with the President garnering an “all time high” of 80% approval rating and 82% trust rating.
Almost a week later, on January 15, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), released to the media its January 11 ruling to cancel the certificate of incorporation of online news outfit Rappler.
The SEC ruled that Rappler was liable for violating the Constitutional provision that prohibited foreign ownership in media institutions, citing Rappler’s investor, Omidyar Network (ON).
Rappler maintained that it was owned and managed by Filipinos and that SEC’s action was a violation of press freedom.
The controversy of foreign ownership versus press freedom saw Rappler’s side being championed by a host of Duterte-critical media and human rights organizations— Amnesty International, Committee to Protect Journalists, Center for International Law, Human Rights Watch, Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR), National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP), and the Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines.
The National Press Club of the Philippines (NPCP) was the sole media organization that considered the Rappler issue as a matter of foreign ownership.
The last days of January saw the return of the government’s “Oplan Tokhang” anti-illegal drugs campaign.
Metro Manila police chief Oscar Albayalde told the media that the new Oplan Tokhang limited house calls to weekdays, during office hours.
House visits will be coordinated with the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency and local governments, he added.
The Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines urged the police to always follow the law in dealing with drug suspects. G