Wednesday, October 17, 2018
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At Large

‘All over but the shouting’

There’s a saying, “It’s all over but the shouting,” and it is as true for elections as it is for any hotly-contested affair. With the close of the canvass by both chambers of Congress, it can now be said that the country has hurdled the final stage of the 2016 electoral process and we can all move on from the strife of the campaign to the task of nation-building.

Of course, hoarse voices will still be raised in the wake of the count’s end. The lead of Vice President-elect Leni Robredo over Sen. Bongbong Marcos is quite slim—just 263,473 votes—so that it’s almost a given that the Marcos camp would pursue all recourses left to it to have the count reviewed, if not reconsidered fully.

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But apart from this nail-biting fight to the finish for the vice presidential post, it’s widely conceded that the 2016 polls were generally clean, peaceful and orderly, and therefore credible.

One big reason that the voting public has generally accepted the results of the voting is that the Commission on Elections heeded a Supreme Court order to reinstate the voter’s receipt, which it had earlier scrapped on grounds that it would delay the voting proceedings. Then senatorial aspirant Richard Gordon persisted in pursuing his earlier efforts to have a “paper trail” instituted by filing a petition at the Supreme Court. He argued that the receipt would allow every voter to confirm whether the vote-counting machine had read his or her choices correctly. The receipts, said Gordon, would also allow for the easier audit of the election results by a simple comparison of the electoral returns and the receipts.

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Gordon is familiar with automated elections because he authored the Automated Election Law during a previous Senate term. Perhaps his championing of the reinstatement of the voter’s receipt in the face of Comelec opposition, along with his record in public service both in the government and out of it (as Red Cross chair), brought him back to the Senate where he is expected to perform as credibly as before.

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Because of dilly-dallying on the part of the Department of Education and Education Secretary Armin Luistro, the school-based immunization program for the HPV vaccine, which protects girls from developing cervical cancer, has been scrapped. Instead, said Health Secretary Janette Garin, the HPV vaccine is being offered in government health centers, where parents have to bring their daughters to get their double doses of protection.

At a recent media forum, Garin said providing the HPV vaccine as part of a school-based program (initially in the 20 poorest provinces but now expanded to 47) would have been ideal since it would “capture” the young girls (at least nine years old) most in need of it. The vaccine is most effective before puberty, while a girl is still young and before her “sexual debut.”

But Luistro expressed reservations about including the HPV vaccine in the school-based immunization program, citing the fears of conservative elements that protecting girls from cancer at an early age would give them “permission” to be sexually promiscuous later in life. (What, they deserve to die from cancer because they choose to indulge in sex?)

Since May is Cervical Cancer Awareness Month, Garin urged parents to bring their eligible daughters to health centers to have them immunized, since the HPV vaccine protects girls from other diseases like genital warts and vaginal and anal cancers. Older women, meanwhile, should go for regular screening either through a pap smear or VIA (visual inspection with ascetic acid). In fact, once a vaccinated girl becomes a sexually active woman, she should go for screening, too, just to make sure that she has not been infected with the small percentage of viruses not covered by the HPV.

Cervical cancer is the second leading cause of death among Filipino women, next only to breast cancer. It is estimated that 12 women die from the disease every day. Said Garin: “There is nothing more tragic than suffering from a disease that is preventable through vaccination.”

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The inclusion of the HPV vaccine in the national immunization program, once thought far-fetched because it is still fairly expensive, is really a windfall from the collection of the so-called “sin taxes.”

The tax imposed on alcohol and tobacco products had a double purpose, aside from collecting more taxes. First is the expectation that the higher taxes (and prices) on these “sin” products would result in reduced consumption and, thus, better health outcomes among Filipinos. Second, by law, much of the income derived from the “sin taxes” would go to fund health programs, to address not just the diseases arising from alcohol and tobacco consumption, but other programs as well, including the expanded immunization program.

Thus, there is also a public health reason for law enforcement agencies to ensure that the “sin taxes” are imposed and collected properly. Part of this drive is going after cigarette smugglers, and manufacturers, distributors and traders of fake cigarettes bearing the labels of legit brands.

In fact, the Bureaus of Customs and of Internal Revenue, the National Bureau of Investigation, and the Philippine National Police have been engaged in a nationwide campaign against fake cigarettes since last year, with raids on stores selling such contraband.

NBI Executive Director Virgilio Mendez has reminded traders to deal “only with authorized company representatives who are in proper uniform with corresponding identification cards and company vehicles.”

After all, it’s not just the foregone income of legitimate cigarette manufacturers at stake, but also the health of the nation at large, given the programs that the collection of “sin taxes” has made possible.

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TAGS: Armin Luistro, Bongbong Marcos, cervical cancer, Department of Education, Elections 2016, HPV vaccine, Janette Garin, leni robredo, reproductive health
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