Thursday, February 2, 2023

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FIRING LINE: Rabies, fish and vaccines

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By Robert B. Roque, Jr.

Fifteen years ago, the National Rabies Prevention and Control Program was established by law to eliminate human rabies by 2020 and have the Philippines declared rabies-free by this year. Annually, the program gets a fund of between P500 million and P900 million – a sizable amount to get its job done.

Yet, 322 Filipinos died of rabies this year as of last November 5. That’s a 37-percent hike from the number of human deaths from rabies in the same period in 2021.

Firing Line supports Quezon City 4th District Rep. Marvin Rillo in seeking a probe of this failed program and an accounting of those responsible for not meeting the targets.

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The Fisheries Administrative Order (FAO) No. 195 Series of 1999 has been implemented for years. Yet, it is only during this administration of Marcos Junior that it has attracted such criticism from lawmakers, the Ombudsman, and the public.

That’s because the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) decided to wage the campaign in wet markets as an extended strategy for implementing FAO 195. As a result, we had the government seizing fish from the stalls of hardworking vendors who could hardly make business ends meet.

 ‘Nak ng tinapa naman, oh! BFAR Officer-in-Charge Demosthenes Escoto should be making up for his boss’s many shortfalls as Agriculture secretary, not adding up to them.

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By the World Health Organization’s latest estimate, 90 percent of the world population now has some resistance to COVID-19 but warned that a troubling new variant could still emerge. It also underscored that COVID-19 had killed 6.6 million people around the Globe.

Here in the Philippines, 71.5 million of our 110 million population is fully vaccinated. The benefits of taking the jabs and masking and abiding by other protocols are proven and reflected in our ability to return to normal activities without impactful surges in infections.

Today is the second day of the government’s three-day Bakunahang Bayan, which keeps COVID-19 vaccines and boosters absolutely free and available at markets, malls, schools, churches, and other public places. So it might well serve the interest of families planning reunions this Christmas season to get the jab, especially our senior citizens and those with comorbidities.

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Speaking of vaccines, let us not forget that our government had borrowed about $1.2 billion (about P67 billion) from international lending institutions to purchase COVID-19 vaccines, over 40 million doses of which have gone to waste.

Now that the Commission on Audit (COA) is reviewing these procurement deals, the Department of Health (DOH) – apparently upon the lingering influence of former Health Secretary Francisco Duque – has shown reluctance in cooperating by withholding documents pertinent to COA’s accounting of the purchases.

Kudos to Sen. Francis Tolentino, who has already announced a Senate Blue Ribbon Committee probe of these procurement deals that deserve transparency and public scrutiny.

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SHORT BURSTS. For comments or reactions, email or tweet @Side_View. Read current and past issues of this column at

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