Items filtered by date: Tuesday, 05 December 2017

WHO backs Philippines’ suspension of Sanofi’s Dengvaxia

FILE PHOTO: A logo is pictured on the World Health Organization (WHO) headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, November 22, 2017. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse
GENEVA — The World Health Organization (WHO) supported a decision by the Philippines Department of Health on Tuesday to suspend vaccinations with Sanofi’s dengue drug Dengvaxia, it said in a statement.

“Like many others in the Philippines, WHO is awaiting the expert analysis of new data and advice about its implications for use of the vaccine,” it said.

“In the meantime, WHO supports the Philippines Department of Health’s decision to suspend the ongoing vaccination program until more information is available. This is appropriate in the circumstances,” WHO added.

Last Tuesday, the Food and Drug Administration of the Philippines ordered the French pharmaceutical giant to stop the sale and distribution of Dengvaxia “to protect the general public” from health risks associated with the world’s first anti-dengue vaccine.

FDA Advisory No. 2017-318 “immediately directed Sanofi to SUSPEND the sale/distribution/marketing of Dengvaxia and cause the WITHDRAWAL of Dengvaxia in the market pending compliance with the directives of” the agency.

“Sanofi was further directed to conduct an information dissemination campaign through Advisories, Dear Doctor Letters and Patient fora,” the FDA further noted in its advisory.

In an advisory issued last November 29, Sanofi said that based on post-clinical trial study, it was found that Dengvaxia posed potential risk to patients who have not had dengue prior to immunization.


Chernobyl's Animal Mutations Shed Light on the Impact of Nuclear Releases

Igor Kostin photographed animal mutations that may indicated Chernobyl sarcophagus leaks. Sygma via Getty Images / Getty Images
The 1986 Chernobyl accident resulted in one of the highest unintentional releases of radioactivity in history. The graphite moderator of reactor 4 was exposed to air and ignited, shooting plumes of radioactive fallout across what is now Belarus, Ukraine, Russia, and Europe. While few people live near Chernobyl now, animals living in the vicinity of the accident allow us to study the effects of radiation and gauge recovery from the disaster.

Most domestic animals were moved away from the accident, and those deformed farm animals that were born, did not reproduce. After the first few years following the accident, scientists focused on studies of wild animals, and pets that had been left behind, to learn about Chernobyl's impact.

Although the Chernobyl accident can't be compared to effects from a nuclear bomb because the isotopes released by the reactor differ from those produced by a nuclear weapon, both accidents and bombs cause mutations and cancer.

It's crucial to study the effects of the disaster to help people understand the serious and long-lasting consequences of nuclear releases. Moreover, understanding the effects from Chernobyl may help humanity react to other nuclear power plant accidents.

The Relationship Between Radioisotopes and Mutations
Radioactivity has enough energy to damage DNA molecules, causing mutations.
Radioactivity has enough energy to damage DNA molecules, causing mutations. Ian Cuming / Getty Images
You may wonder how, exactly, radioisotopes (a radioactive isotope) and mutations are connected. The energy from radiation can damage or break DNA molecules. If the damage is severe enough, cells can't replicate and the organism dies. Sometimes DNA can't be repaired, producing a mutation. Mutated DNA may result in tumors and affect an animal's ability to reproduce. If a mutation occurs in gametes, it can result in a nonviable embryo or one with birth defects.

Additionally, some radioisotopes are both toxic and radioactive. The chemical effects of the isotopes also impact the health and reproduction of affected species.

The types of isotopes around Chernobyl change over time as elements undergo radioactive decay. Cesium-137 and iodine-131 are isotopes that accumulate in the food chain and produce most of the radiation exposure to people and animals in the affected zone.

Examples of Domestic Genetic Deformities
This eight-legged foal is an example of a Chernobyl animal mutation.
This eight-legged foal is an example of a Chernobyl animal mutation. Sygma via Getty Images / Getty Images
Ranchers noticed an increase in genetic abnormalities in farm animals immediately following the Chernobyl accident. In 1989 and 1990, the number of deformities spiked again, possibly as a result of radiation released from the sarcophagus intended to isolate the nuclear core. In 1990, around 400 deformed animals were born. Most deformities were so severe the animals only lived a few hours.

Examples of defects included facial malformations, extra appendages, abnormal coloring, and reduced size. Domestic animal mutations were most common in cattle and pigs. Also, cows exposed to fallout and fed radioactive feed produced radioactive milk.

Wild Animals, Insects, and Plants in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone
Przewalski's horse, which inhabited the Chernobyl zone. After 20 years the population has grown, and now they gallop on radioactive territories.
Przewalski's horse, which inhabited the Chernobyl zone. After 20 years the population has grown, and now they gallop on radioactive territories. Anton Petrus / Getty Images
The health and reproduction of animals near Chernobyl were diminished for at least the first six months following the accident. Since that time, plants and animals have rebounded and largely reclaimed the region. Scientists collect information about the animals by sampling radioactive dung and soil and watching animals using camera traps.

The Chernobyl exclusion zone is a mostly-off-limits area covering over 1600 square miles around the accident. The exclusion zone is a sort of radioactive wildlife refuge. The animals are radioactive because they eat radioactive food, so they may produce fewer young and bear mutated progeny. Even so, some populations have grown. Ironically, the damaging effects of radiation inside the zone may be less than the threat that posed by humans outside of it. Examples of animals seen within the zone include Przewalksi's horses, wolves, badgers, swans, moose, elk, turtles, deer, foxes, beavers, boars, bison, mink, hares, otters, lynx, eagles, rodents, storks, bats, and owls.

Not all animals fare well in the exclusion zone. Invertebrate populations (including bees, butterflies, spiders, grasshoppers, and dragonflies) in particular have diminished. This is likely because the animals lay eggs in the top layer of soil, which contains high levels of radioactivity.

Radionuclides in water have settled into sediment in lakes. Aquatic organisms are contaminated and face ongoing genetic instability. Affected species include frogs, fish, crustaceans, and insect larvae.

While birds abound in the exclusion zone, they are examples of animals that still face problems from radiation exposure. A study of barn swallows from 1991 to 2006 indicated birds in the exclusion zone displayed more abnormalities than birds from a control sample, including deformed beaks, albinistic feathers, bent tail feathers, and deformed air sacs. Birds in the exclusion zone had less reproductive success. Chernobyl birds (and also mammals) often had smaller brains, malformed sperm, and cataracts.

The Famous Puppies of Chernobyl
Some Chernobyl dogs are fitted with special collar to track them and measure radioactivity.
Some Chernobyl dogs are fitted with special collar to track them and measure radioactivity. Sean Gallup / Getty Images
Not all of the animals living around Chernobyl are entirely wild. There are around 900 stray dogs, mostly descended from those left behind when people evacuated the area. Veterinarians, radiation experts, and volunteers from a group called The Dogs of Chernobyl capture the dogs, vaccinate them against diseases, and tag them. In addition to tags, some dogs are fitted with radiation detector collars. The dogs offer a way to map radiation across the exclusion zone and study the ongoing effects of the accident. While scientists generally can't get a close look at individual wild animals in the exclusion zone, they can monitor the dogs closely. The dogs are, of course, radioactive. Visitors to the area are advised to avoid petting the pooches to minimize radiation exposure.

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Ed Sheeran rules Spotify in 2017

SPOTIFY'S NUMBER 1. Ed Sheeran performs onstage during 102.7 KIIS FM's Jingle Ball 2017 presented by Capital One at The Forum on December 1, 2017 in Inglewood, California. Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images/AFP

NEW YORK CITY, USA – English singer-songwriter Ed Sheeran dominated Spotify in 2017, with his latest album Divide played 3.1 billion times worldwide, the leading streaming service said Tuesday, December 5.

The ginger-haired pop guitarist was streamed more than any other artist in the year so far – not a surprise, considering his song Shape of You, the fourth track on Divide, reigns as Spotify's most streamed song ever.

Despite Sheeran's triumph, the Swedish-based streaming service said the larger trends of 2017 included hip-hop, with streams growing 74% over an already large base in 2016.

Hip-hop star Drake came in second on Spotify in 2017 and rapper Kendrick Lamar was fourth, with R&B singer The Weeknd, a protege of Drake, placing third.

Latin music also saw major gains, with streams more than doubling on the back of viral Spanish-language hits – most notably the worldwide sensation Despacito.

Rihanna was the most streamed woman on Spotify for the third year in a row, despite her lack of major releases in 2017.

Sheeran, 26, has seized on the rapid growth of streaming during his rise to pop fame.

His success on Spotify, however, did not help him at the Grammys, with Sheeran shut out of major categories announced last week – a surprise to many watchers of the music industry's top prizes. –


Duterte names Dela Rosa's replacement as PNP chief

NEXT CHIEF. Ramon Apolinario. Malacanang photo


MANILA, Philippines – President Rodrigo Duterte has named a replacement for Philippine National Police (PNP) chief Director General Ronald dela Rosa, a top police official confirmed.

He is the PNP’s number 2: Deputy Director General Ramon Apolinario.

The President made the announcement during their command conference on Tuesday, December 5.

According to the top police official present in the meeting, Duterte said, “Your next PNP chief will be handsome, he’s Apol.”

“Sa pakiwari ko pinalakpakan pa eh,” he said. (From what I remember, people even clapped.)

Another source present at the command conference confirmed Apolinario's impending appointment was mentioned by Duterte.

A source close to the President confirmed this to Rappler too, saying that the President had decided to have Apol as his top as early as January 2017.

Dela Rosa, the current top cop, is awaiting his retirement in January 2018, when he hits 56 – the mandatory age of retirement for the uniformed service.

As of posting time, the PNP and Malacañang have yet to issue a formal statement regarding Apolinario's ascent.

Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque, asked by Rappler to confirm the news, said there is "no word yet." –


Duterte green-lights gov't satellite network

PRESIDENTIAL NOD. President Rodrigo Duterte approves the Government Satellite Network proposed by the PCOO. Malacañang file photo

MANILA, Philippines – President Rodrigo Duterte approved the roll-out of a Government Satellite Network during a Cabinet meeting on Tuesday, December 5, according to Presidential Communications Secretary Martin Andanar.

"I am pleased to announce that during the 20th Cabinet meeting, the President gave the nod for PCOO's 'Government Satellite Network' (GSN) in 2018," said Andanar in a statement sent on Wednesday.

The GSN will be implemented by the Presidential Communications Operations Office.

The network is expected to allow the transmitting of government-created content, such as video, photos, and audio even to remote areas in the Philippines and the rest of the world through "advanced satellite and IPTV (Internet Protocol Television) technology."

Two-way or multiple tele-conference communication and access to multiple television channels are other benefits the GSN is expected to provide to Filipinos, said Andanar.

He expressed confidence that if after all the legal work and bidding processes are "ironed out," the GSN can be rolled out to 42,000 barangay halls, PCOO attached agencies and offices nationwide in 6 months. –


Jinggoy asks court nod for Hong Kong family holiday

REUNITED. Former senator Jinggoy Estrada with wife Precy and children after he completes the procedures for his release at the Sandiganbayan on September 16, 2017. Photo by Lian Buan/Rappler 

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MANILA, Philippines – Former senator and plunder defendant Jinggoy Estrada filed a travel motion Tuesday, December 5, before the anti-graft court Sandiganbayan to be allowed to fly to Hong Kong for the holidays with his family.

Estrada appealed to the 5th Division to allow his flight “for purpose of a long desired family bonding and holiday trip” which he said he has "long promised" his wife and kids. As a defendant in the plunder charges over the multi-billion peso pork barrel scam, he has to have permission of the court every time he wants to leave the country.


Estrada, with wife Precy and children Janella, Jolo, Julian and Jill, have booked their flights to Hong Kong from December 26 to 31, and their accommodations at the Marco Polo hotel.  was freed on September 16 despite the non-bailable charges of plunder after a special division of 5 ruled there was not sufficient evidence as of yet to prove he’s the main plunderer. He posted a P1.33 million bail for his temporary freedom.

“After accused-movant was allowed bail, the family has been longing for bonding outside of the country. The Christmas holidays would be the most opportune time to have this,” he said in his motion.

Track record is on his side, because just this November, the 5th Division allowed him to travel to Singapore to accompany his father, Manila Mayor Joseph “Erap” Estrada, for a medical trip.

The Singapore trip proves he is not a flight risk, says Estrada.

His trial for plunder is ongoing at the Sandiganbayan, where he is accused of earning P183.793 million in kickbacks from his Priority Development Assistance Fund or PDAF.

Fellow plunder defendant and ‘best friend’ Bong Revilla has begun the legal process of moving for an outright dismissal. –


Honasan offered post as DICT chief? 'I cannot confirm or deny'

NEXT DICT CHIEF? Senator Gregorio Honasan II refuses to confirm nor deny his supposed impending appointment as secretary of the Department of Information and Communications Technology. Photo by Camille Elemia/Rappler 

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MANILA, Philippines – Senator Gregorio Honasan is silent about his supposed impending appointment as secretary of the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT).

Honasan, who is set to leave his Senate seat in 2019, dismissed the issue as a “rumor” and said he is bent on finishing his term.


“That’s a rumor. I have a term to serve and finish. I’ll cross that bridge when we get to it but it would be difficult for somebody with my track record to refuse the country if the country needs me,” the senator told reporters on Wednesday, December 6., however, refused to comment if there are offers for him to take the position after. "I cannot confirm or deny," the lawmaker said.

Honasan said he has to finish his term because of his mandate from the public.

“I have to. I was placed here, not by an appointing authority but through electoral mandate,” he said.

Reports claimed that the DICT top post is already being reserved for the 69-year-old senator, who has largely focused on military and security affairs.

Honasan is currently the chair of the Senate committees on National Defense and Security and on the Peace, Unification, and Reconciliation.

Honasan is a 4-term senator who graduated from the Philippine Military Academy (PMA) in 1971. (READ: 10 things to know about Gringo Honasan)

Along with his PMA classmates, he later set up the Reform the Armed Forces Movement (RAM) that recruited soldiers to rebel against the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos.

Honasan, however, also led several failed coup attempts against former President Corazon "Cory" Aquino after the 1986 People Power Revolution. 

He was accused of plotting the deadliest coup attempt in December 1989 when soldiers tried to attack Malacañang Palace.

In 2006, Honasan went into hiding after he was charged for rebellion for supposedly leading the 2003 Oakwood mutiny in 2003 and the 2006 foiled coup attempt against the Arroyo administration.

The charges against him have been dismissed in 2007, just a few months after he won as senator in the May polls. –


PNP vows to ‘work 24/7’ to solve murder of Fr. Paez in Nueva Ecija

Fr. Tito Paez

The Philippine National Police (PNP) has vowed to “work 24/7” to resolve the killing of Fr. Marcelito Paez, who was attacked by still unidentified assailants in Jaen, Nueva Ecija last Monday night.

“The Philippine National Police is saddened by the recent incident resulting to the death of Rev. Fr. Marcelito A. Paez who was shot to death by armed suspects in Jaen, Nueva Ecija,” PNP spokesperson Chief Supt. Dionardo Carlos said in a statement issued on Wednesday.

“The SITG will work 24/7 to resolve the case by arresting and prosecuting the suspects responsible in the killing of retired priest Fr. Paez,” he added. SITG is the Special Investigation Task Group.


Carlos said PNP Deputy Director General Ramon Apolinario, the PNP officer-in-charge while PNP Director General Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa is abroad, has directed the investigation and immediate resolution of the case and designated PNP Region 3 Director Chief Supt. Amador Corpuz to create the SITG that would look into the case.

The SITG, Carlos said, would be headed by Sr. Supt. Eliseo Tanding, Director of PNP-Nueva Ecija, and assisted by regional investigators and available National Support Units (NSU) field offices in Central Luzon.

A Regional Task Group (RTG) headed by Sr. Supt. Rolando Llanera, Deputy Director for Operations of PNP Region 3, would also oversee the progress of the investigation, Carlos said.

At around 8:00 p.m. last Monday, Paez was driving his vehicle along Barangay Lambakin in the town of Jaen when motorcycle-riding gunmen ambushed and wounded the priest. Paez was rushed to the Gonzales General Hospital in nearby San Leonardo town but died at around 10:45 p.m. while undergoing treatment.

Fr. Oliver Castor, a board member of the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines (RMP) of which Paez was also part of, said his killing came after he facilitated the release of a political detainee, Rommel Tucay.

Tucay is a peasant organizer of the Alyansa ng Magbubukid sa Gitnang Luson-Nueva Ecija (AMGL-NE), who was released from the Nueva Ecija provincial jail earlier Monday.

READ: Priest killed in Nueva Ecija

For Castor and the human rights group Karapatan, the killing of Paez was another attack against activists opposing President Rodrigo Duterte’s policies.

“We accuse them (Duterte and his government) of complicity in this heinous crime. Sapagkat kung kaya nila itong gawin sa isang taong simbahan, kaya nila itong gawin sa ating lahat,” Castor said during Tuesday’s indignation rally, condemning the killing of Paez.

“Ginagawa na nila ito 13,000 na ang napatay sa war on drugs kailan tayo magsasabi na tama na sobra na itigil na ang pagpaslang?” he asked. /kga


House panel OKs bill abolishing PCGG, tasking OSG to recover ill-gotten wealth

The House Committee on Justice on Wednesday approved the substitute bill seeking to strengthen the functions of the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG), including taking over the Presidential Commission on Good Government's (PCGG) task to recover ill-gotten wealth.

At their meeting on Wednesday, the House panel approved the committee report sponsored by Leyte Representative Vicente "Ching" Veloso on the still unnumbered bill, which consolidates proposed legislation to strengthen the OSG including House Bills 350, 547, 3275, 4748, 5216, and 5233.

All bills seek to enhance the efforts of the government to fully and effectively recover ill-gotten wealth and properties, as well as ensure the efficient investigation and prosecution of cases.

The consolidated bill will have the Office of the Government Corporate Counsel and the PCGG abolished and their functions be transferred to the OSG.

House Bill 5233, for one, was authored by Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, Majority Leader Rodolfo Fariñas and House justice panel chair Reynaldo Umali.

In his sponsorship speech, Veloso said the consolidated bill was supposed to be approved by the House panel as early as August 2017, but was moved to a later date due to the concerns of the members on the merger of the PCGG and OGCC with the OSG.

These concerns, Veloso said, primarily referred to the PCGG and OGCC officials who would be affected by the abolition of their respective offices.

Veloso said the subcommittee then met on October 3 to prepare a new substitute bill incorporating the proposed amendments of the House members.

Updates on the improved consolidated bill include mandating a special task force of at least five divisions to be primarily responsible in performing the PCGG functions.

"This means that at least 50 lawyers from the OSG will be tasked to recover ill-gotten wealth and pursue cases that have already been initiated by the PCGG," Veloso said.

Section 22 of the bill was also updated to include the absorption of officials and employees of the PCGG and OGCC who would prefer not to avail the retirement or separation benefits

This, "as long as they possess the necessary eligibility and qualifications for the corresponding positions in the OSG," Veloso said.

As of late 2016, the PCGG was dealing with more than 200 pending cases on the Marcos family's estimated $10-billion loot, which includes Swiss accounts, properties and assets, jewelry sets, and artworks.

Following its approval in the committee, the bill will then move to plenary deliberations for approval on second and then on final reading. — MDM, GMA News


Calida on drug smuggling in PH: ‘We cannot police an archipelago’

GRILLED. Solicitor General Jose Calida is grilled on the operational loopholes of Oplan TokHang and the government's anti-drug war campaign during the 3rd and final day of the Supreme Court oral arguments. Photo by Lian Buan/Rappler 

MANILA, Philippines – Solicitor General Jose Calida said the archipelagic nature of the Philippines has made it impossible for authorities to catch all smugglers of illegal drugs, mainly methamphetamine hydrochloride or "shabu."

“Unfortunately, our country is an archipelago. This shabu is dumped into the sea and somebody will get them from the high seas and bring them to the coastal areas or the land. We cannot police an archipelago,” Calida said on Tuesday, December 5, on the 3rd and final day of oral arguments at the Supreme Court (SC) on the war on drugs.


Calida added: “There are so many places where they can be transported. It need not pass the Bureau of Customs. (READ: SC Justice Carpio: ‘Why is PNP ignoring big-time drug lords?’)

It was Calida’s answer to Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio who grilled him on why authorities could not cut the supply chain, in lieu of arresting drug lords who are overseas.

Earlier, Carpio asked Calida why Chinese and Filipino-Chinese drug lords are not being arrested, when the police circular that operationalized the drug war names them as the ones involved in bulk smuggling.

“The big time Chinese drug lords are outside our jurisdiction. They are in China,” Calida replied.

Carpio pointed out to Calida that shabu is in fact smuggled through the Bureau of Customs (BOC), as in the case of the P6.4 billion drug shipment from China that passed through the Manila port in May.

Smuggling at Customs

“I don’t think they have to resort to dumping the goods, the precursors, into the sea. They can easily get out of Customs as we have seen. They don’t have to go to the trouble, if you police the Customs area, you can catch a lot of them already,” Carpio said.

To this, Calida responded: “I cannot answer why there was this alleged importation of drugs. Tt’s still under investigation.I

The Department of Justice (DOJ) earlier charged alleged middlemen in connection with multbillion-peso shabu shipment, but dropped cases against Customs officials including former commissioner Nicanor Faeldon.

The DOJ panel it was forced to drop the case against Faeldon because the complaint filed by the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency lacked evidence. Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II earlier said the DOJ, or its attached agency the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), cannot be proactive in going after evidence due to the restriction imposed by President Rodrigo Duterte’s drug war memorandum.

The presidential memo had named the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency as the sole agency in charge of his drug war.

The Office of the Ombudsman has a separate investigation that will focus on public officials like Faeldon, and other officials associated with the so-called "Davao Group" as alleged by whistleblower Mark Taguba.

'Zero deaths in TokHang'

Carpio’s line of questioning during the oral arguments focused on the loopholes of the anti-drug campaign. He even said that because government statistics pegged the current number of drug addicts at 4 million, “that means more Filipinos will be killed if we go after street-level addicts.”

Calida told Carpio that the reason why more street-level addicts are being killed was because “statistically, there are more people living in barangays than in Forbes Park or other swanky villages.”

"Shabu is a poor man's cocaine. Which is more, poor or rich? Naturally you focus on where the shabu is," Calida said.

Calida also got technical and said there has been zero deaths in the police's anti-drug campaign, Oplan TokHang.

“As far as we know none, because Oplan TokHang is not to arrest, it is to convince them to come back to the fold. The 3,806 deaths are legitimate police operations; they are buy-bust operations,” Calida told reporters afterwards.

Carpio has compelled Calida to submit to the court full documentation of the 3,806 deaths, classified as cases of nanlaban or those who resisted arrest by fighting back with guns. –

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