Monday, July 19, 2021

Covid-19 Vaccines create 9 new billionaires

COVID vaccines create 9 new billionaires with combined wealth greater than cost of vaccinating world's poorest countries

Figures for vaccinating all poorest countries is based on countries defined as ‘Low Income’, for which the population is 775,710,612 (according to UN Population 2020). The average vaccine cost, $19, is based on the  average mid-range cost per course of vaccination of the 5 leading vaccine producers. However, the prices should be far lower and the $19 is for illustration purposes and is in no way an endorsement of these unacceptably high prices. The wealth of the new billionaires could vaccine all Low-Income countries 1.3 times. The population of India (according to UN Population 2020) is 1.38 billion and the increase in wealth of the 8 existing billionaires could vaccine everyone in India 1.2 times. All figures based on a two-dose regimen. Vaccine doses in low income countries data from Our World in Data.

At least nine people have become new billionaires since the beginning of the COVID pandemic, thanks to the excessive profits pharmaceutical corporations with monopolies on COVID vaccines are making, The People’s Vaccine Alliance revealed today ahead of a G20 leaders Global Health Summit.

The 9 new vaccine billionaires, in order of their net worth are: 

  1. Stéphane Bancel, Moderna’s CEO (worth $4.3 billion)
  2. Ugur Sahin, CEO and co-founder of BioNTech (worth $4 billion)
  3. Timothy Springer, an immunologist and founding investor of Moderna (worth $2.2bn)
  4. Noubar Afeyan, Moderna’s Chairman (worth $1.9 billion)
  5. Juan Lopez-Belmonte, Chairman of ROVI, a company with a deal to manufacture and package the Moderna vaccine (worth $1.8 billion)
  6. Robert Langer, a scientist and founding investor in Moderna (worth $1.6 billion)
  7. Zhu Tao, co-founder and chief scientific officer at CanSino Biologics (worth $1.3 billion)
  8. Qiu Dongxu, co-founder and senior vice president at CanSino Biologics (worth $1.2)
  9. Mao Huihua, also co-founder and senior vice president at CanSino Biologics (worth $1 billion) 

Topping the list of new billionaires who have cashed in on the success of COVID vaccines are the CEOs of Moderna and BioNTech, each with a wealth over $4 billion or more. The list also includes two of Moderna’s founding investors and the company’s chair as well as the CEO of a company with a deal to manufacture and package the Moderna vaccine. This is despite the fact the vast majority of funding for the Moderna vaccine was paid for by taxpayers. The final three new vaccine billionaires are all co-founders of the Chinese vaccine company CanSino Biologics.

The rights to manufacture vaccines are currently held by a small group of pharmaceutical companies making extraordinary profits by controlling the global supply. While over 1.74 billion vaccine doses have been administered worldwide, the difference in vaccination programmes between countries is stark, with dozens –- including Madagascar, Nicaragua, Cuba, Chad, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Eritrea, and Tanzania -- yet to report a single jab being delivered.

I have a new morning alarm these days: the alert on my phone to book a COVID vaccine. It’s the same routine every day. Within seconds of trying to book an appointment, I am told there are “0 slots”. Securing a vaccine in India is an impossible game of fastest finger first.

But this game is only for people like me in urban India with access to technology. Even with these benefits, there is no guarantee that I will get a jab because of the extreme shortages of vaccines.

The rights to manufacture vaccines are currently held by a small group of pharmaceutical companies making extraordinary profits by controlling the global supply. While over 1.74 billion vaccine doses have been administered worldwide, the difference in vaccination programmes between countries is stark, with dozens –- including Madagascar, Nicaragua, Cuba, Chad, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Eritrea, and Tanzania -- yet to report a single jab being delivered.

India’s second wave is still ravaging the country, pushing hospitals and people to a breaking point. It will take a generation to recover from what we’ve seen in our communities, our hospitals and our families. Shortage of oxygen, hospital beds, overburdened crematoriums and crumbling public health infrastructure have left my country gasping for breath.

For the past few months, I’ve been on late-night calls trying to help the sick get hold of oxygen, a hospital bed or COVID medication. There are thousands of volunteers, mostly young, working around the clock to help their communities and families. For them, and for myself, the constant sense of devastation when the people we are trying to help don’t make it is taking its toll.

This nightmare can quickly spread. The so-called Indian variant is between 30% to 100% more transmissible than the UK variant and is now present in 44 countries worldwide. With new variants emerging, we cannot end the pandemic without vaccinating the whole world.

In the United States, 50 per cent of the population has received at least one vaccine dose. India has administered the first dose to only 11 per cent of its population. Meanwhile, Africa has the slowest vaccination rate of any continents, with some African countries yet to start mass vaccination campaigns. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 87 per cent of vaccine supply has gone to higher-income countries.

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

The UP-DND Accord

In his Jan. 15 letter, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana told UP President Danilo Concepcion that his office has decided to abrogate the 1989 UP-DND agreement, which he said had been a “hindrance in providing effective security, safety, and welfare of the students, faculty, and employees of UP.”

Sec. Lorenzana added that the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and its armed wing, New People’s Army (NPA), both tagged as terrorist organizations by the Anti-Terrorism Council, have been recruiting students inside the campus.

Sec. Lorenzana said also that the agreement was a "hindrance in providing effective security, safety, and welfare of the students, faculty, and employees of UP."

According to the defense chief, he ended the deal on his "own volition" and not because President Rodrigo Duterte instructed him to.

The defense department said that they find the previous agreement a "hindrance in providing effective security, safety, and welfare of the students, faculty, and employees of the University of the Philippines (UP)." Lorenzana also claimed that there is an "ongoing clandestine recruitment inside UP campuses nationwide for membership in the Communist Party of the Philippines/New People's Army."

The agreement between UP and DND was inked on June 30, 1989 between constitutionalist and UP President Jose Abueva and then-Defense chief Fidel Ramos.

An earlier agreement in 1982, known as the Soto-Enrile Accord, was signed between student leader Sonia Soto and and then-Defense Minister Juan Ponce Enrile. The agreement prohibits members of the police or military from entering UP campuses “except in cases of hot pursuit and similar occasions of emergency.”

  • Prior notification shall be given to the UP administration by the military or police before they could conduct any operations inside the UP campuses.
  • Except in "cases of hot pursuit and similar occasions of emergency," no military or police shall enter the premises of the UP campuses.
  • When the UP administration asks for security assistance from the troops, only uniformed personnel of the military and police can enter the campus premises.
  • Members of the military and police "shall not interfere with peaceful protest actions" by the UP community in their campus.
  • The service of search warrants to any UP student, faculty, employee, or invited participant in any UP activity shall as far as predictable be done after prior notification to the UP President, or Chancellor of the campus, or the Dean of the regional unit.
  • The arrest or detention of any student, faculty, or employee anywhere in the Philippines, shall be reported immediately to the UP administration. No members of the UP community shall be subjected to custodial investigation without prior notice of the university administration.
  • A joint monitoring group composed of the UP Faculty Regent, UP Student Regent, UP administration officials, and officials from the military and police shall meet twice a year to determine compliance [with] the agreement.
  • Nothing in the agreement "shall be construed as a prohibition against the enforcement of the laws of the land."

The agreement also stipulated that the university strengthen its "own security, police, and fire-fighting capabilities."

The UP campuses have been a refuge for student activism since the 1980s – a result of a long history of student disappearances, killings, and police and military violence within the vicinity of the campuses.

Meanwhile, Reyes said that the termination of the deal has implications on youth activism in the country.

"Everything that the accord prohibits, the DND now wants allowed. 'Yung dating bawal, puwede na. 'Yung dating safeguards, wala na (Those that were prohibited are now allowed. The past safeguards are now gone.) That is the implication of the accord's termination," he said in a Facebook post

What can you say?

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

PhilHealth mafia

President Rodrigo Duterte has ordered Undersecretary Jesus Melchor Quitain to conduct the probe, the Palace said Friday.

A “mafia” involving the whole of Philippine Health Insurance Corp.'s executive committeee has stolen some P15 billion from the agency using different fraudulent schemes, resigned PhilHealth anti-fraud legal officer Thorrsson Montes Keith alleged during a Senate investigation on Tuesday, Aug. 4.

Malacañang is investigating the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation after a lawyer resigned from the agency, citing widespread corruption and other irregularities.

A whistleblower on Tuesday claimed that Health Secretary Francisco Duque 3rd was the “godfather” of the alleged mafia in the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth).

Thorrsson Keith, the state insurer’s former anti-fraud officer, made the claim when he physically attended the resumption of the Senate investigation of alleged anomalies in PhilHealth.

Morales stressed that there’s no massive corruption in PhilHealth and challenged Keith to “come up with the evidence and file the case.”

Keith also opposed the PhilHealth contribution being imposed on overseas Filipino workers, but Morales said this is still being discussed in the government, particularly by a joint oversight congressional committee.

Sen. Ana Theresia “Risa” Hontiveros said Duque must explain his alleged links and inaction on PhilHealth corruption.

“As Health Secretary and as Chairman of the PhilHealth board of directors, Secretary Duque cannot wash his hands of the corruption in PhilHealth and the billions of pesos in public health funds that have been abused and misused,” she said.

“He can’t say that he doesn’t know of any irregularities, because it is his duty to know and stop such things,” Hontiveros said

She noted that at a Senate hearing in August 2019, Dr. Roy Ferrer, former acting PhilHealth president, said that Duque knew about the so-called PhilHealth mafia supposedly exercising inordinate influence in the agency.

Another PhilHealth official, Senior Vice President Dennis Adre, also testified that he wrote a letter to Duque in February 2018, after the DoH secretary asked for advice on what measures may be taken “to deal with fraud in the agency.”

Amid the coronavirus crisis, Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon questioned PhilHealth’s “overpriced” COVID-19 testing package, saying the government could lose ₱8 billion. PhilHealth later slashed the price, saying supply and demand have improved.

Several hospitals complained that PhilHealth owed them billions of pesos, but the agency's officials said this may be due to the denial of some claims due to lack of data and other requirements.

Phil​Health also figured in a “ghost” dialysis scam last year, where government funds were allegedly used for nonexistent kidney treatments. Duterte asked for the resignations of top PhilHealth officials following the insurance fraud scandal, which led to the hiring of Morales as its new chief.

Friday, February 21, 2020

Pastillas Scheme

In a Senate hearing that probed sex trafficking and prostitution rings linked to POGOs, Hontiveros showed a video and screenshots of Viber groups of immigration employees facilitating the entry of Chinese persons. The screenshots contained names, flight details, and photos of the arriving Chinese.

BI authorities said that it was the first time for them to hear of the systematic practice, which the senator said was called pastillas because payouts are rolled in bond paper. Now compensation is more sophisticated, with payouts placed in envelopes and free lunch provided by the Chinese.

A whistleblower on Thursday, February 20, said that majority of immigration officers are already part of the "pastillas scheme" or the modus in airports allowing Chinese workers of Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators (POGO) to enter the country seamlessly.

At the marathon hearings on POGO operations, Immigration Officer Allison Chiong said that he had personally witnessed the scheme which started when there was a "dramatic increase" in Chinese entering the Philippines sometime around 2017.

Senator Risa Hontiveros, who chairs the Senate Committee on Women, Children, Family Relations and Gender Equality which held an inquiry on the issue, revealed earlier this week that Chinese nationals pay ₱10,000 “service fee”, rolled in a bond paper like the wrapping of the milk-based candy, to have a special treatment as they enter the country.

“To cope with the substantial deduction of their salaries, some immigration officers decided to offer ‘VIP services’ for immigrants who are casino high-rollers,” said Chiong.

From the ₱10,000 paid by the Chinese nationals, only ₱2,000 goes to the immigration officers on the ground and the remaining P8,000 is split among the foreign tour operator, its partner in the country, and the syndicate running the corruption scheme in local airports.

“This VIP service involved immigration officers accepting Php 2,000.00 for each high-roller, in exchange for the latter's convenient and seamless immigration.” said Chong.

In a week, Chiong said that involved immigration officers assigned at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport Terminal 1 receive around ₱20,000 while those in Terminal 3 receive ₱8,000.

Aside from money, Chiong noted that Chinese organizations and personalities also give free lunch meals to immigration officers.

Duterte on Thursday ordered the relief of all Immigration officials and employees believed to be involved in the “pastillas” operation. 19 have so far been put under floating status as BI continues its probe.

Commissioner Morente admitted he has limited authority in the appointment of division heads in the bureau.

The commissioner explained that it is the Justice Secretary who assigns the heads of divisions while he submits the shortlist of recommendations, as stated in the Philippine Immigration Law of 1940.

"I do not even have disciplinary powers... that 's why I am working for the passing of a new immigration law which would correct the system," said Morente.

Nevertheless, he said he already ordered an investigation into the incident as well as the firing of the personnel shown in Chiong's video.

Hontiveros said there is currently no sufficient evidence to tie Morente to the pastillas scheme. She added that her committee will also look into amending the immigration law.

The sacked employees "will most likely face cases," according to Panelo.

Sunday, February 2, 2020

Trump impeachment

With the end of the impeachment trial now in sight and acquittal assured, a triumphant Mr. Trump emerges from the biggest test of his presidency emboldened, ready to claim exoneration and take his case of grievance, persecution and resentment to the campaign trail.

The president was impeached in December for abuse of power over pressure on US ally Ukraine to announce investigations that would have helped him politically, including into Joe Biden, a leading challenger for this year's presidential ballot.

Biden is among the candidates Monday in the Iowa caucuses that choose the state's Democratic nominee and mark the official start of election season.

The selection process in largely rural Iowa, coinciding with final impeachment arguments in Washington, will be closely watched as a sign as to which of 11 Democratic candidates are gaining early momentum to challenge Trump in November's election.

At only the third impeachment trial of a US president, Trump is all but assured of being acquitted Wednesday, the day after his annual "State of the Union" speech, which the president said will carry a "very, very positive message."

Republicans hold 53 seats in the Senate to 47 for the Democrats, but a two-thirds majority, or 67 senators, is needed to remove him from office.

A day before the first contest of the 2020 election, two days before Mr. Trump’s State of the Union address and three days before his expected acquittal, they and other Republicans appeared to be coalescing around a more nuanced argument: Mr. Trump’s efforts to push Ukraine into investigating a political rival while withholding critical military aid might not have been appropriate. But that did not warrant the president’s removal from office for the first time in American history.

Adam Schiff, the leader of the House prosecutors, known as impeachment managers, told CBS on Sunday that it was "pretty remarkable" that senators on both sides had acknowledged that Democrats proved their case against the president.

Mr. Alexander first took that position last week, when he announced that he would vote against the consideration of new witnesses and documents in Mr. Trump’s trial. He acknowledged the merits of the House case for removing the president on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress: that the president had withheld nearly $400 million in military aid to pressure Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and other Democrats.

Republican Senators Lamar Alexander and Joni Ernst on Sunday said Trump's behavior was troubling but not impeachable.

Alexander, of Tennessee, suggested Trump had been naive in asking a foreign ally to look into Biden and his son Hunter's business dealings in Ukraine, which Republicans have claimed without evidence were corrupt.

Then he added: "The bottom line: it's not an excuse. He shouldn't have done it."

But a senior administration official briefing reporters on Friday said the president will use his State of the Union address to celebrate “the great American comeback” and present “a vision of relentless optimism” encouraging Congress to work with him. Mr. Trump plans to pursue an agenda of cutting taxes again, bringing down prescription drug prices, completing his trade negotiations with China and further restricting immigration.

Monday, November 25, 2019

Crab Mentality on SEA Games 2019

The Philippine Southeast Asian Games Organizing Committee (PHISGOC) chairman called for unity amid rumors that the country might lose its hosting rights of the regional showpiece.

Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano yesterday hit back at former president Benigno Aquino III and Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon for their criticism of the P6-billion budget for the 30th Southeast Asian Games to be hosted by the country, branding it as “hypocrisy.”

At a press conference in Tarlac, Cayetano slammed the opposition leaders for their double standard in criticizing the Duterte administration’s expenditure on the SEA Games, particularly the P55-million cauldron for the opening and closing ceremonies that they said is an “unnecessary extravagance.”

Cayetano, also chairman of the Philippine Southeast Asian Games Organizing Committee (PHISGOC), reminded Aquino and Drilon of the P10-billion budget spent for hosting the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in 2015 during the previous administration.

Crab mentality has been the reason behind the issues hounding the Philippines' hosting of the 2019 Southeast Asian Games, Alan Peter Cayetano stressed.

Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon said the PHP 50-million cauldron that will be used for the opening of the SEA Games was an "unnecessary extravagance."

In a press conference during the inspection of the SEA Games sports facilities at the New Clark City in Capas, Tarlac, Cayetano pointed out that when he was Senate Majority Leader, the Aquino administration asked for a PHP10-billion budget to host the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Summit in Manila in 2015.

The House leader also twitted Drilon for bringing up the classroom issue since it was during Aquino’s time that the shortage worsened.

He said before bringing up the cauldron-classroom issue, Drilon was asking for PHP50 million for the Cultural Center of the Philippine (CCP), for the Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra to conduct a world tour.

He also pointed out that it was Drilon himself who said the cauldron may not be overpriced.

The Speaker said they are asking for another gold medal that will be up for grabs.

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Ninja Cops

Retired police official Rudy Lacadin said Gen. Oscar Albayalde called him up to inquire about the case of the so-called "ninja cops" who were ordered dismissed over the raid.

Lacadin then claimed Albayalde told him that some of the drug loot went to him but "only a little."

The Senate on Wednesday, October 9, ordered the arrest of one the policemen involved in a questionable drug operation in Pampanga, after he again failed to appear at the blue ribbon committee hearing on "ninja" cops.

As the roll call started at the Senate hearing on alleged drug recycling among police, Senator Richard Gordon noted that Master Sergeant Ronald Bayas Santos was again not at the hearing.

But former PNP - Criminal Investigation and Detection Group chief and now Baguio City Mayor Benjamin Magalong, who blew the whistle on Albayalde, backed Lacadin’s claim.

Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency chief Aaron Aquino has testified that Albayalde, who was then Metro Manila’s top cop, called him in 2016 to seek updates on the case of the Pampanga cops.

Aquino also revealed that Albayalde asked him not to implement the dismissal order against Baloyo and his men.

Maintaining innocence in the allegations against him and defending his call to Aquino, Albayalde has rejected calls for his resignation ahead of his Nov. 8 retirement.

The best way for the chief PNP to show that he does not have anything to do with them is to complete the proposal of the dismissal and file the necessary cases,” Sen. Sotto told in a forum at the Manila Hotel.

The Senate is probing the alleged recycling of crystal meth, or shabu, seized by 13 Pampanga police officers in an anti-drug operation in November 2013.

The officers were subordinates of Albayalde, who was then the chief of the  Pampanga Police Provincial office.

Albayalde and his former subordinates were accused of benefiting from the 2013 operation against a certain Johnson Lee, wherein the police team allegedly seized some 200 kilograms of shabu but only declared 36 kilograms as evidence.

The Pampanga officers were also allegedly paid to make it appear that the Chinese drug lord had escaped.

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