Duterte’s tax reform: Nothing short of revolutionary

IT will probably be only years after President Duterte steps down from office that we will realize that his tax reform program which the Congress—surprisingly, really—approved at breakneck speed is nothing short of revolutionary.

Not even the supposedly radical, communist National Democratic Front ever dared to demand—or even think of—what Duterte’s administration has done through the tax reform law, Republic Act 10963, which was passed the other day.

This is to exempt from any income tax the country’s lower classes—up to those receiving around P20,000 per month. They have been taxed at least 5 percent since 1997, amounting to P14,500 to P50,000 annually. Some 7 million workers are estimated to be exempted from income taxes under the new law, called the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion Act (TRAIN).

The taxes squeezed from the lower classes for two decades have been actually higher as companies have been required to withhold 10 percent of salaries of all their staff, which they remit to the Bureau of Internal Revenue. In practice, the lower classes mostly no longer file the claims for a tax refund.

President Duterte signs tax reform bill into law.

Even those with incomes P25,000 to P80,000 per month—roughly the country’s middle-class—will see their income taxes significantly reduced by P55,000 to P98,000 from 2018 to 2023. (See chart) (more…)

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On the Dengvaxia debacle, Bro. Luistro betrayed his flock

BRO. Armin Luistro, the previous regime’s education secretary, is as much to blame as President Aquino and his health secretary, Janette Garin, for risking the health and even lives of over 800,000 Grade 4 pupils inoculated with the faulty Dengvaxia anti-dengue vaccine. Its manufacturer Sanofi itself last month admitted that its product could worsen those who had never been ill with dengue before.

While embracing the faulty Dengvaxia, Luistro in 2015 blocked a vaccination program to counter a much deadlier disease in the country, cervical cancer, which kills much more Filipinos than dengue.

On March 28, 2016, Luistro issued Memorandum No. 50, ordering that Dengvaxia be administered to “all Grade 4 learners, nine years old and above, currently enrolled in public elementary schools in the National Capital Region, Region III, and IV-A (Calabarzon).”

“Regional directors, school division superintendents, and other school officials are enjoined to provide full support in the conduct” of the mass vaccination program, the memo read.

The Department of Health (DoH) has no authority to order the education department to allow any kind of vaccination of the public-school students it supervises. It is the education secretary’s sole prerogative.

If Luistro had not ordered his department to undertake the Dengvaxia vaccination program, Garin would have had to rely on community health centers to implement it, which in the past had been extremely slow in undertaking such mass vaccination. Some 800,000 schoolchildren would not have been vaccinated so swiftly, probably just 80,000 and she and Aquino would not be able to justify to the public why 1 million doses of Dengvaxia were ordered costing P3 billion.

The trio responsible for the vaccine fiasco, although one could have committed another wrongdoing, blocking a program to fight cervical cancer.

A new administration – with a new health secretary – with no pecuniary interest in Dengvaxia that cost billions of pesos, would have suspended the program that was so rushed that it reeked, at best, of criminal negligence.

Using the religious images Luistro would be familiar with, he betrayed his flock, the students under his care as education secretary.

Astonishing support
Two things make Luistro’s support of the Dengvaxia program quite astonishing.

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Aquino’s Dengvaxia debacle: Criminal negligence or negligent crime?

WITH most of the details on President Benigno Aquino 3rd’s P3.5-billion mass injection program using the faulty Dengvaxia vaccine having been revealed in the two hearings in the Senate, we can only conclude either of two possibilities: that it was a stupendous case of criminal negligence or an execrably negligent crime.

Aquino claimed he had to act fast in the closing months of his presidency in order “to give a solution to the dengue problem,” of which Sanofi’s Dengvaxia appeared to be so. He added that he had made this move so that he could fulfill his promise to leave the country better off than before he became president.

If we believe Aquino, we have to conclude that his mass vaccination program was indubitably a case of criminal negligence of massive proportions.

How could Aquino have ordered P3 billion worth of a new vaccine untested for mass recipients—even breaking rules on bidding and the use of government funds without Congress’ approval—without asking other people, other experts other than his health secretary Janette Garin and the Sanofi people? For a P3.5 billion program that involved the departments of health, education and local governments, there wasn’t a single meeting of the Cabinet or of this cluster. (Didn’t his education secretary, Brother Luisito Armin, a member of the De la Salle Christian Brothers who had been president of De La Salle University, care about the children under his care enough to ask his university’s medical school about the safety of Dengvaxia?)

Rather than spending hours playing computer games, why didn’t Aquino simply google “Dengvaxia vaccine risks” in the period he ordered the purchase of 1 million doses of Dengvaxia in mid-December 2015 to the start of its injection in July 2016 to hundreds of thousands of Filipino childre?

If he had done so, he would have read the World Health Organization’s fact sheet posted in that period which categorically announced that Dengvaxia was not prequalified at that time (or to this day) by the WHO.

If he didn’t understand what he read, he could have easily googled “WHO prequalification.” He would have learned in seconds that a WHO-prequalified drug or vaccine means it meets standards of “quality, safety and efficacy.” If it isn’t “prequalified”, as is the case with Dengvaxia, then it may not be safe nor effective.

Aquino (right) and his budget secretary at the Senate hearing: Did he tell the truth?

If you were told that there’s this newly developed miracle drug that would make your child immune from pneumonia, but costs P50,000, wouldn’t you do some research and ask other people to find out if there’s no terrible side-effect to this medicine, or even check if the claims of its seller are true?

Wasn’t he curious enough that the Food and Drug Administration had not approved of Dengvaxia to be marketed in the country that he had to order it, through Garin, to do so in a rush?

Wasn’t Aquino curious that most of the members of the Philippine Formulary Executive Council – the body that approves what medicines and drugs the government can procure – didn’t want to give its imprimatur to Dengvaxia, and did so only after considerable pressure, and only for a one-year period and with six conditions? One of these was to (more…)

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Senate should probe why Sanofi got Zuellig for Dengvaxia sale

WHY did the Dengvaxia manufacturer Sanofi get Zuellig Pharma to be the broker for its P3 billion sale of the faulty vaccine to the health department?

Did the then health undersecretary Dr. Kenneth Hartigan-Go, who had pushed for the Dengvaxia-based mass vaccination program, have a role in Zuellig’s designation as Sanofi’s broker and distributor?

Did Hartigan-Go have a hotline to President Benigno Aquino 3rd who rushed to get his administration to undertake the Dengvaxia mass vaccination before he stepped down from office in June 2016?

These are three questions the Senate’s blue ribbon committee investigating the diabolical Dengvaxia debacle should investigate to determine who is accountable for what the former health secretary Enrique Ona termed as a “major health nightmare in the country today.”

I would call Zuellig Pharma as the broker since the purchase order dated March 10, 2016 of the Philippine Children’s Medical Center—the health department unit designated for the transaction—for the P3 billion worth of Dengvaxia was not to Sanofi but to Zuellig Pharma.

But there was no need for Zuellig Pharma’s services as broker. It was government, in fact President Benigno Aquino 3rd himself, who negotiated with Sanofi for the deal that boosted the French firms’ troubled finances for its Dengvaxia business. Health Secretary Janette Garin even claimed that Aquino had negotiated a lower price for the vaccine.

Zuellig has become a huge distributor of drugs in the country because of the extensive network of doctors, hospitals and clinics that it has built up over many decades. But there was no need for its network for the sale and distribution of Dengvaxia.

Corruption by whom? Health undersecretary Hartigan-Go (center) with his former boss health secretary Garin (seated). Right, protest against Dengvaxia.

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Aquino may have condemned hundreds of thousands to severe dengue and Zika

FORMER President Aquino’s order to undertake a mass vaccination program using the faulty Dengvaxia vaccine just three months before he left office has put at risk some 830,000 Filipino children, to contract potentially severe dengue, and Zika fever as well, another mosquito-borne disease.

Dr. Scott Halstead, the leading figure in dengue research in the past 50 years and a former head of the US Army Medical Research and Development Command, had very sarcastically said of Sanofi’s Dengvaxia: “It’s happened. We have a vaccine that enhances dengue.” *

He was referring to microbiological studies that showed that those who hadn’t contracted dengue and who are then vaccinated with Dengvaxia were likely to suffer a more severe form of dengue if they should ever catch the virus.

Other researchers on the other hand had raised warnings that because of the genetic similarity of dengue with the Zika virus, Dengvaxia may also make such vaccinated persons prone to contracting the Zika disease.

While causing only mild symptoms, Zika could be transferred by a pregnant woman to her baby, resulting in brain malformations (such as abnormal smallness) and other birth defects. While Dengvaxia has been administered mostly to 830,000 fourth-grade children, any one of these children contracting Zika may infect adult women through certain types of mosquitos, not just the Aedes Aegypti that transmits dengue and Zika.

Aquino meeting with Sanofi execs December 2015, with Garin and Finance Secretary Purisima. Inset: Possible longterm consequences—more severe dengue illness and Zika that results in brain abnormalities.

Aquino’s horrendously faulty Dengvaxia mass vaccination therefore may have put at risk not only 830,000 Filipino children but, through Zika, a future generation of Filipinos who may have brain malformations and other birth defects.

All these warnings on Dengvaxia were issued by (more…)

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Was Aquino’s P3.5B purchase of the dengue vaccine the worst case of corruption ever?

WAS there corruption on a massive scale, with former President Aquino 3rd earning hundreds of millions of pesos in dirty money from his administration’s purchase of Sanofi’s dengue vaccine Dengvaxia?

If indeed it was a case of corruption, it would be among the biggest ever for a single corrupt deal, as just 10 percent of the P3-billion cost of the one million dosages of the vaccine purchased—without any bidding and through secret negotiations—is P350 million. It could have been likely more, considering that Sanofi’s $70 million sale to the Aquino administration gave it the much needed financial and advertising boost for a vaccine it had developed at a cost of $1.8 billion, yet which it could sell only $20 million worth in two years of aggressive marketing.

But more than the magnitude of dirty money involved, this case of graft, if proven as such, would be the most abominable: The health and lives of 730,000 Filipino children were put at risk, just to rush the vaccine’s purchase before a new government would come to power.

Aquino with his health secretary Garin: Will she throw him under the bus to save her own skin?

President Duterte must leave no stone unturned to determine the answer to this question, if he is to be true to his promise to rid the country of corruption, and to get justice for 730,000 children.

He will be met by stiff resistance by the Yellow Cult, Already the most expensive campaign ever has been contracted and launched to use media for a massive cover-up of this ignominy. Just check the articles and opinion columns of the newspaper still in the Yellow Cult’s control.

I don’t think arriving at the truth will be so difficult: Aquino’s health secretary Janette Garin, who is from one of the most powerful political clans in Iloilo, would likely throw her former boss under the bus to save her own skin.

You, dear Reader, decide for yourself if Aquino got graft money or not from his dengue vaccination program. I will just narrate the facts.

Intense interest

First, (more…)

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