OPINION: Dengvaxia fantasia

Buddy Gomez -- Cyberbuddy

Posted at Mar 02 2018 10:01 PM

There really is never a dull moment in the Philippines. The latest: government lawyers dabbling in medical science, politicizing it along the way. 

Our selection from the week’s menu is a zarzuela produced, written and directed, ‘kuno’ (Visayan for ‘puportedly’), by the indefatigable concocter of imaginative scenarios, the much-caricatured unglamorously wiggged Vitaliano Aguirre II, Secretary of Justice. As a matter of re-emphasis, it was under his orchestration that trumped-up and fake illegal drug-related charges were heaped upon the lady Senator Leila de Lima, the long standing nemesis of a former terror-mayor from the South by the name of Rodrigo R. Duterte. 

Whereupon, Leila has been in detention for over a year now. Unbailable, as advanced by Aguirre, with what appears to be nebulous, incoherent and undefined charges, as yet. Lest we forget, Aguirre infamously rounded up a bunch of convicted criminals already in jail as his witnesses against Senator de Lima. She is accused of being the ‘drug queen’ lording over the National Penitentiary-based narcotics syndicate. Senator de Lima had previously served as Secretary of Justice herself. Brutish exercise of political power, would you not say? The matter is in limbo and Aguirre is sadistically enjoying the impasse. 

While the world has taken note of this travesty of justice, that is not our focus today. Our current comedic extravanganza features Aguirre’s “Public Attorney” Persida V. Rueda-Acosta who must now face the humorous accusation of a lawyer engaging in medical malpractice! Having seized an artificially-generated vaccine controversy to be her cause celebre, obviously a platform for grandstanding, the joke of the week is Persida’s reward. The vaccine, by the way, is known as Dengvaxia, a preventive/antidote for dengue. I have this lingering suspicion that Persida perceived the fantasy surrounding Dengvaxia as her ticket to fame!

Incidentally, the Public Attorney’s Office “exists to provide indigent litigants…..with legal services.” The presumption is that the litigant-beneficiaries are alive and breathing. Why the secretary of Justice, who oversees and supervises the Public Attorney, allowed (or egged?) Persida to engage in the ghoulish exhumation of dead non-litigants is indeed foolish. It was a stupid attempt at mixing pathology with politics. The Department of Justice, through Persida, was lustily aiming to prove that certain hand-picked dengue deaths were caused by the Dengvaxia vaccine. And pin the blame on the past administration under whose budget the bulk purchase of the vaccine was made, a response to then-threatened dengue epidemic. Blame for deaths directly caused by the vaccine Dengvaxia was the unabashed objective of Persida’s performance, as salaciously coveted by her boss, Aguirre.

Instead, the ensuing Dengvaxia publicity has given vaccination a bad rap. Preventive medicine, especially for the underprivileged and the indigents, now encounters unwarranted scare. ‘Dengvaxia fantasia’ has created doubt and reluctance among the population sought to be protected and benefitted. Medical experts now say that the next outbreak and prevalence of diseases will certainly go through renewed resistance to prevention. Parents now adamantly refusing the efficacy of vaccinations.

Unable to resist the crafted opportunity to drag out and besmirch the previous administration (read: Pres. Benigno Aquino III), instead of simply leaving the issue to qualified medical science experts, the Public Attorney insistently inserted herself dramatizing and malinterpreting autopsies of deceased children, suspected fatalities of dengue and the vaccine. All fodder for the consequent separate Senate and House investigations “in aid of legislation” attended by free TV publicity.

I recall watching Persida on TV, it must have been mid-November 2016. During her interview before the Judicial Bar Council, as an applicant for Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, (nominated by Sen. Zubiri) there being a vacancy created by a recent retirement. She appeared self-confident, donning facial make-up with what appears to be Chinese cake powder, garbed in her ubiquitous signature accoutrement – the scarf. She attempted to be eloquent and was articulate, in Pilipino. She was glib, obviously rehearsed and a miserable bluff!

The chair, Ms. Angelina Sandoval-Gutierrez, a retired Supreme Court Justice, admonished Persida to read some more! Questioned about whether she would have concurred with the Court’s decision allowing the Marcos burial at the Libingan ng mga Bayani (national cemetery for heroes), she said she would have concurred. Reciting the latin maxim“Dura lex sed lex” (the law may be harsh but such is the law), for effect. She even cited the “Pantheon Law.” Justice Sandoval-Gutierrez courteously corrected. What she quoted was not law at all but an Armed Forces of the Philippines regulation in reference to funeral services of soldiers. Asked further if she in fact had read the Supreme Court decision, she had to admit that she only read in the newspapers. End of bluff, application denied!

Nonetheless, there can no longer be any doubt that Persida V. Rueda-Acosta, after her ‘Dengvaxia Fantasia’ performance in Congress, has indeed achieved national caricatureship. It is a pity because what she has achieved in life is indeed noteworthy. She is a genuine success story. A third attempt at hurdling the Bar Examinations earned her fourth place in the ranking of passers in 1989. She is apparently hardworking and dedicated. Of course, as evinced by current happenings, a consciousness for an irresistible trajectory towards the ‘grandstand’ is obvious.

It would be fun to crowdsource the correct information about her claims to fame from those who are more familiar with her or even rubbed elbows with her, as it were. She has the tendency to embellish her ‘curriculum vitae’ unnecessarily. For instance, having participated in a program sponsored by the Nippon Foundation Fellowships for Asian Public Intellectuals, she claims to be an “Asian Public Intellectuals Senior Fellow whose expertise in legal aid has been recognized by the United Nations.”
She claims to be “a Dr. Antonio del Castillo Memorial scholar (Ateneo Law School).” This is ambiguous because she is not a graduate of the Ateneo School of Law but of the UE (University of the East). Does anyone know of a Dr. Antonio del Castillo? And his memorial scholarship? It must exist, someplace!

She did participate in the Harvard Kennedy School’s Senior Fellows four-week “executive leadership skills program” in November of 2013. She received a “certificate of completion” for her attendance. Participation in the program entails a fee of US$23,600.00. “This program fee includes tuition, housing, materials and most meals.” Round trip airfare and travel per diem are, of course, necessarily added expense. She attended this program as Chief Public Attorney. It could not have been otherwise since a senior posting in government is a requirement for admission to the program.
It is unlikely that she expended personal funds for this educational advancement. But she could prove me wrong. Reasonable magnanimity in fees and stipends had to have a source. Her pocketbook or the Public Treasury?

This episode in the government career of Persida V. Rueda-Acosta was a singular benefit granted to her during the incumbency of Pres. Benigno Aquino III when Sen. Leila de Lima as Secretary of Justice was Persida’s immediate supervisor. Thus, the official recommendation/permission to attend the program as well as the provisions for the enrolment and travel emoluments must have been signed by then-Secretary of Justice Leila de Lima. Times do change, don’t they?

The Dengvaxia “in-aid-of legislation” hearings may have waned. But odds are that we will hear from Persida further. 

Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.