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No clean hands

WE MAY all subscribe to what the daughter of senatorial aspirant Kiko Pangilinan has declared, that “we should treat farmers as our parents because they all feed us.”

But farmers gathered at that protest on the highway in Kidapawan may have reason to be cynical, given the shooting that broke up their assembly that resulted in the death of three protesters and the wounding of many others, as well as some policemen, two of whom are in critical condition.

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The Commission on Human Rights is said to be investigating the alleged violations of human rights by police dispatched to break up the protest, but the way I see it, nobody really comes out with “clean hands” in this controversy.

There have been allegations that the farmers’ protest was far from spontaneous and that they had been organized—perhaps herded—by elements of the communist New People’s Army. Among the most telling signs for me was the use of placards at the front line of the protest that all looked alike—that is, professionally printed, and calling for the end to military operations in an “NPA-infested” area.

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The slogan now being peddled by sympathizers of the hungry farmers is “bigas,  hindi  bala” (rice, not bullets), so why were placards calling for the end to armed operations against the NPA so prominently displayed?

Still, explanations from the side of the government—that agencies had been responding to the farmers’ plight before the highway protest, or that bureaucratic procedures were slowing down their response—pale beside the sight of armed police firing at the ranks of farmers. What happened to maximum tolerance, after all?

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SO by all means let the investigations continue, including that to be launched by the CHR and a separate probe ordered by Malacañang. And if groups of lawyers are indeed serious about plans to file charges against North Cotabato Gov. Emmylou Taliño Mendoza, police officials and other local officials for the shooting, then they should do so with dispatch and not drag it well into the election season.

In truth, there is more than a whiff of politics about both the timing of the protest and the messaging following the violent dispersal. Already political parties and candidates, including Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte, have jumped into the scene. Duterte donated thousands of sacks of rice to the protesting farmers, and even actor Robin Padilla showed up with his own donation.

And when candidates, including “proxy candidate” P-Noy, choose to keep their peace and hold off from commenting on the event, they are called out for their “indifference” and “hard-heartedness.” I can still remember a time when candidates commenting on newsworthy events during the campaign were immediately condemned for “electioneering.” But in this instance, no one seems to mind the exploitation of the situation for the sake of election.

In the meantime, the farmers are still left hungry and desperate. The sacks of rice reportedly pouring in from sympathizers will last them and their families for just a while. But mitigation measures promised by the government, which should be more long-term and last beyond the immediate El Niño crisis, aren’t all that newsworthy and will probably be ignored, as they were before the blockade at the highway.

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ISSUES have been raised against the program of the Department of Health, which began yesterday, to immunize against dengue fever over a million elementary-level students in public schools in designated areas. To be given in three doses, the vaccine costs P3,000, and some P3.5 billion has been allotted by the DOH for the program.

The schools in the program are located in areas with the highest number of dengue cases, including the National Capital Region, Region III (Central Luzon) and Region IV-A (Calabarzon).

While Health Secretary Janette Garin said the free vaccination is “completely optional and not mandatory,” some health authorities have questioned the seemingly hasty decision to adopt the dengue vaccination program, as well as the quality of the information and the way consent is being gathered from parents.

To be sure, dengue is a serious health problem for the Philippines, said to be the leading cause of hospitalizations of children here, with hundreds dying of the disease each year. Maybe this is the reason the country is among the first in the world to grant a license for the vaccine, and the first to make it publicly available through the public school system.

Critics, however, said the approval of the dengue vaccine and the launching of a widespread immunization program are premature, since doubts remain about the efficacy and safety of the vaccine. This, even if the World Health Organization has vouched for its safety.

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A WEBSITE of the National Vaccine Information Center, a US-based group that carries out research on the effectiveness and risks of vaccines, has put out a list of questions that parents should ask themselves before allowing their child(ren) and/or themselves to be immunized. These are:

Am I or my child sick right now?

Have I or my child had a bad reaction to a vaccine before?

Do I or my child have a personal or family history of vaccine reactions, neurological disorders, severe allergies or immune system problems?

Do I know the disease and vaccine risks for myself or my child?

Do I have full information about the vaccine’s side effects?

Do I know how to identify and report a vaccine reaction?

Do I know I need to keep a written record, including the vaccine manufacturer’s name and lot number, for all vaccinations?

Do I know I have the right to make an informed choice?

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TAGS: Commission on Human Rights, Dengue, Dengue fever, human rights, Kidapawan, opinion
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