Philippines-China relations

[OPINION | Newspoint] A craven case for China

Vergel O. Santos
[OPINION | Newspoint] A craven case for China

David Castuciano

'But why insist on Chinese vaccines? What is the deal like exactly? How much are we paying with our tax money?'

On Monday night, before 11 o’clock, an hour early for him but approaching the indecent for us, I caught the President on television; he was conscious. He supposedly was addressing the nation, but was actually haranguing critics.

His unusual earliness would presently betray an eagerness to deploy in the public discussion, which was going badly for him, something he found that he could work to advantage. Or so he thought, for all he found was simply another of those cheap – although this one was rather too morbid – launch pads from which to propel himself, as is his wont, into the orbit of premature conclusions. 

This launch pad consisted of at least 23 Norwegian elderly who were reported to have died after taking a vaccine against the virus that has had us and the rest of the world in a deadly grip for longer than a year now. Scarcely had proper scientific inquiries into those deaths started when already Dr Duterte ascribed them to the vaccine, and pronounced its transnational American manufacturer, Pfizer, guilty. 

Few cases are more graphic than this one as a metaphor for overreachers so unscrupulous they don’t mind climbing up a pile of bodies to get to what they want. And what Duterte wanted was to make a craven case for China and its vaccines.

Desperately worshipped by Duterte as patron and protector, China could do no wrong in his eyes, not even in such life-saving matters as vaccines – for his very own people. Suspicions surround the Chinese vaccines with every good reason; its safety and efficacy have not been fully proved, for one thing. 

Indeed, if anything needs serious proving, it’s everything made in China. Poisons have found their way into Chinese exports that precisely require conscientious care in how they are made – lead in children’s toys, melamine in baby formula. We ourselves have uncovered plastic impostors in our rice grains from China. The virus itself was made in China. 

In any case, Duterte is too piqued, and too slavish toward China, to be reasonable. If you don’t like the Chinese vaccines, take Pfizer’s, he said. He was, of course, raising the challenge in the context he was peddling presumptuously of the Norwegian tragedy; at the same time, he was delineating the competition exclusively between Pfizer and China, as if vaccines by other makers did not exist. 

Yet, for all his detail-man-like espousal of the Chinese vaccines, he has not taken any of them. Some of his own guard have taken their vaccines, supposedly as a matter of emergency duty – to protect the President, the guard commander said. But protect the President from what? Surely not from the virus, for, if that had been the point, the President could have taken his own vaccine. The obvious point was to protect him, rather, from the Chinese vaccines themselves, which had yet to be authorized for dispensing.

All the same, the government has continued to negotiate for them, presuming, I guess, that, by the time they are jabbed into Filipino arms, they will have been FDA-certified safe and efficacious enough – at 50%, they are less efficacious than the others, but they meet the minimum requirement. 

But why insist on Chinese vaccines? What is the deal like exactly? How much are we paying with our tax money? 

Well, it’s a secret.

But the prices are out there for all to see – the Chinese vaccines are the second most expensive.

Trouble is some people see corruption everywhere, Duterte said that night, referring to critics of the deal. Only recently he himself did acknowledge corruption, of plunder proportions in some cases, at the state insurer PhilHealth, Public Works, and Immigration. But to drag the kind-hearted Chinese along domestic mud!

Let Duterte tell our lucky story: We’re getting a special deal from the Chinese, but, again, secrecy is essential to it. They had us sign a vow of confidentiality so that their other customers (toward whom they’re not so kind-hearted apparently) would not know they were paying more for the same vaccines.  

Doesn’t it just make you want to cry knowing the Chinese have a special place in their hearts for us Filipinos? –

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