Out for pizza

Vice President Leni Robredo, I fear, is not really interested in speeding up the recount of the votes cast in the 2016 elections. If she really was, she’d be signing with her own hand a document stating that she is withdrawing all motions that she filed—and may still file—to delay the counting.

If Robredo were serious about accepting the challenge thrown down by former Senator Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr., she would declare her intentions herself, instead of letting her hired help, lawyer Romulo Macalintal, do the talking. But we only hear from Macalintal, whose latest stunt yesterday was going to a pizza restaurant with a supposed document he signed himself that purports to say that Robredo will withdraw all her motions.

Marcos signed his own petition for the Presidential Electoral Tribunal to withdraw all motions, past and future, so that the counting may begin. He had his lawyer bring that document to the Ortigas area office of Macalintal and his partner in the Robredo case, Ma. Bernadette Serdillo, for forwarding to Robredo; but Macalintal, who had apparently stepped out for a pizza, was not there to properly receive the Marcos-signed document.

(Serdillo, by the way, may be a lot less prominent than the veteran Macalintal, even if she is more than a match for him in the “big lie” department. It was Serdillo who declared that there was no need for Robredo to sign any document dropping all motions to delay the recount, since no such motions have been filed by Leni’s camp.)

I find Marcos lawyer Vic Rodriguez more believable here because Robredo seems to want to show that she wants a speedy recount by having Macalintal sign a document to that effect, while making sure that she can deny its authenticity by ensuring that she doesn’t sign it herself. And I find it truly suspicious that Robredo, who really isn’t as busy as she lets on, can’t even directly respond to Marcos’ challenge, allowing Macalintal and Serdillo to discuss it on her behalf.

I’ve said it before and I’ve said it again: Robredo’s strategy (as it has been laid out a long time ago by Macalintal) is to delay the recount for as long as she can, in the hope of convincing Marcos to abandon his protest and return to the Senate in next year’s elections. But now that Marcos has shown his resolve to continue with his protest all the way to the end, Robredo can only hope that Marcos is stymied until 2022, when any results of his protest will be rendered moot.

I’d call Macalintal and ask for his comment, but I think he hasn’t returned from his favorite pizza place.

* * * 

Health Secretary Francisco Duque has been confirmed by the Commission on Appointments. Whether this should be taken as a sign that he will now focus his energies on addressing the Dengvaxia scandal remains to be seen.

Getting confirmed by the CA, which has developed a reputation for thumbing down nominees to Cabinet positions made by President Rodrigo Duterte, is certainly a vote of confidence by Congress that Duque will do his job. Especially at this time, when Duque’s department is wracked by controversy over the anti-dengue vaccination program embarked upon by the previous administration, I think the message that the CA sent is that he should no longer be paralyzed into inaction by the threat of being bypassed or even of being rejected altogether.

But like so many private medical practitioners and state health workers who stand accused of being involved, in one way or another, with Sanofi and other pharmaceutical companies that have basically dictated local health policy with their huge, well-funded marketing campaigns, Duque will have to prove that he is no “big pharma” stooge. And because Duque already worked as health secretary during the Arroyo years and officially advised DoH as civil service chief in the Aquino administration, he will have to work extra hard to gain the credibility that his high post deserves.

Duque has not been doing a lot to gain the public’s trust in the wake of the Dengvaxia brouhaha. For one, Duque has not initiated any kind of internal, department-wide investigation of the “deep state” bureaucrats who helped Noynoy Aquino and his health secretary, Janette Garin, implement the P3.5-billion campaign launched at the tail-end of Noynoy’s term.

Instead of cleaning up his own backyard, as any top bureaucrat in his position would do, Duque has repeatedly declared that he wants Sanofi to pay back the money spent by the Philippine government for the vaccine, which is really the province of state prosecutors, not the health secretary. Duque has not even complied, to this day, with demands for DoH to complete a definitive registry of all the 830,000 schoolchildren who were given Dengvaxia.

And Duque is not only a public health insider but a political player, one of the few who has held high office under the last three presidents, which is a testament not of medical his expertise but of his family’s political clout in his home province of Pangasinan. Duque, if he really wanted to, could become the ultimate crusader and whistleblower, if that’s what he wants, instead of being just the most durable political survivor of the last two decades.

I sincerely hope that Duterte and Congress made the right decision by choosing Duque. Any more mistakes at this point would be ruinous to the government’s public health campaigns, which have been rocked to their very foundations by Aquino’s misguided Dengvaxia experiment.

Topics: Out for pizza

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