NEWS AT A GLANCE

Merck may tap local partners for Molnupiravir production

Philstar.com, October 21, 2021 | 3:09pm


MANILA, Philippines — Hopefully, Tamesis said, Molnupiravir will be available in the Philippines by next month, although this would still be dependent on the decision of Indian authorities in allowing exports of the antiviral medicine. “While there are already local partners, at the end of the day, they have to get first the exports from India.”

He also dismissed reports that a Molnupiravir in the country would cost patients around $700. “I have great confidence, there is no way we will be at $700.”

He also reminded Filipinos to only get the medicine from official distributors and healthcare institutions that have secured CSPs from the FDA. 

This, he noted, makes the partnership with RiteMed and other distributors critical. “I don’t know what channels of distribution they plan to go through. But having heard about hospitals applying for CSP, the hospitals can get to the patients.”

Molnupiravir will help alleviate the burden on the healthcare system as it allows healthcare workers in hospitals to focus on severe and critical in-patients. 

During the trials, the drug regimen was given twice a day for five days to patients diagnosed with the COVID-19 virus. An analysis of 775 patients in the US found that only 7.3% of those given Molnupiravir were hospitalized, compared to the 14.1% of patients who were given a placebo or dummy pill. 

There were also no reports of deaths in the Molnupiravir group, whereas eight patients who were given a placebo in the trial later died of COVID-19. Merck (known outside the US and Canada as MSD) is considering the possibility of letting Philippine manufacturers produce the oral anti-COVID-19 drug Molnupiravir to make it readily available in the country.

But while this is still under discussion, MSD Philippines president and managing director, Dr. Beaver Tamesis, said they are confident that with the partnership with RiteMed for the distribution of the game-changer drug, Molnupiravir will reach healthcare facilities throughout the country faster at accessible prices.

“They have a very wide network. I’m sure they’ll be able to do what they need to do,” Tamesis said in a virtual forum organized by the Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines (FOCAP) on Monday.

RiteMed, one of the companies under United Health Group, has been appointed by Faberco Life Sciences Inc. (Faberco), as distributor of Molnupiravir in hospitals, medical institutions and treatment sites in the country once compassionate special permits (CSP) are filed with and approved by the Philippine Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Faberco, meanwhile, is the appointed Philippine distributor of Aurobindo Pharma Ltd., a partner manufacturer of Merck & Co. (known as MSD outside the United States and Canada), which developed the Molnupiravir capsule.

Tamesis said several Philippine drug makers have started discussions with Merck on the possibility of obtaining voluntary licensing agreements for the local production of Molnupiravir in the country. 

He said it is a good thing that local companies have expressed strong interest to produce Molnupiravir. “They have reached out to us and already we have elevated it. Definitely, this is under discussion,” Tamesis said

.

He stressed that it is really the intention of Merck to have licensing agreements with many manufacturers as this is the best way to make Molnupiravir more accessible and cheaper, especially in countries like the Philippines. This, he said, is the reason Merck has signed licensing agreements with seven Indian companies already. 

Senators to file bill removing withdrawal as ground for candidate substitution

By: Christia Marie Ramos - Reporter / @CMRamosINQINQUIRER.net / 09:32 AM October 25, 2021

 

MANILA, Philippines — Some senators will be filing a bill that would amend the Omnibus Election Code to remove withdrawal as one of the grounds for candidate substitution, according to Senator Sherwin Gatchalian.

“The substitution rule has become a tool for political use and that’s not supposed to be. In fact me and a few other senators will file this week a [proposed] law that will remove…the withdrawal criteria,” Gatchalian said in an interview on ABS-CBN News Channel.


“That is not only on the national level, all the way to the local level…The spirit of the law is once you file, you don’t place placeholders in order to prolong the deadline. That’s not the spirit of the law. And we will file a bill to remove that (withdrawal) so that it’s very clear so that there’s disqualification and probably death that will be allowed for substitution,” he added.

Recently, Deputy Speaker and Cagayan de Oro City Rep. Rufus Rodriguez filed in the House of Representatives a bill that would prohibit a political party from substituting any candidate, unless for the reason of death or disqualification.

The Omnibus Election Code currently allows the substitution of a candidate in case of death, disqualification, or withdrawal of another aspirant, Rodriguez said in filing the bill.

‘One deadline’


While the Commission on Elections (Comelec) sets the filing of certificates of candidacy (COCs) from Oct. 1 to 8, it also allows the substitution of candidates until Nov. 15.

This, according to Gatchalian, creates “confusion.”

“The deadline is supposed to be Oct. 8 but with allowing substitution, in effect, [the deadline] is Nov. 15,” he said.

The senator said it would be “logical” for Comelec to just set the COC filing deadline until Nov. 15.

“My view here is there should only be one, which is Nov. 15…The logic why Comelec allowed Oct. 1 to 8 is because they said they will start printing the ballots already. But they cannot print the ballots until Nov. 15 after which the substitution is completely over. So let’s just make it Nov. 15 and not prolong the agony of guessing who’s gonna file, who’s not gonna file,” Gatchalian said.

“This is logical, in fact, I don’t even know how come Comelec not just made it Nov. 15, it’s common sense,” he added.
 

HNP open to supporting BBM for president – Sara

By: Morexette Marie Erram - Multimedia Reporter - CDN Digital|October 24,2021 - 05:36 PM

CEBU CITY, Philippines — Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio reiterated her decision not to run for President in the 2022 National Elections.

But the Presidential Daughter, who is also the founder of the political alliance Hugpong ng Pagbabago (HNP), is open to supporting the presidential bid of former Sen. Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr.

“Wala pay isturya mahitungod niana (Bongbong – Sara tandem),” Duterte-Carpio told reporters on Sunday, October 24. 

“Ang among lang gistorya sa pagkakarun (is) how HNP in Davao region can help his bid for Presidency,” she added.  

The Presidential Daughter was in Cebu for three days to attend official events in Liloan, a 1st class town located approximately 22 kilometers north of Cebu City. 

She arrived on Friday, October 22, coinciding with the arrival of Marcos who was in the city for the opening of his campaign headquarters. 

Duterte-Carpio confirmed that she met with the dictator’s son but declined to provide further details. 

“I cannot comment on that but you can ask him since he is the one who is a candidate for a national position,” she said. 

She also stood by with her decision to seek reelection as the local chief executive of Davao City.

“No, I don’t have plans to run for President,” Duterte-Carpio added. 

Speculations are still abounding whether or not the mayor of Davao City will vie for the highest position in the country, which is currently held by her father President Rodrigo Duterte, through substitution. 

Her arrival in Cebu last Friday that coincided with Marcos’ sparked new discussions among netizens.
 

Chinese ships linger in West Philippine Sea despite diplomatic protests — US think tank

By: Frances Mangosing - Reporter / @FMangosingINQINQUIRER.net / 08:13 AM October 23, 202

MANILA – Chinese ships linger in the West Philippine Sea despite diplomatic protests filed by the Philippines, according to a Washington-based think tan


“When international outcry or patrols by other claimants convince them to leave a disputed feature, they disperse to nearby reefs for a time. But their overall numbers in the Spratlys remain consistent,” the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTI) of the Center for Strategic and International Studies said in its latest report released Saturday.

‘Shell game’
For instance, the number of Chinese militia vessels at Iroquois Reef dwindled after the Philippines filed diplomatic protests last Sept. 30.

The ships, however, only ended up at another area of the West Philippine Sea, part of the South China Sea which belongs to the Philippines.

“This is evidence of the Chinese militia’s shell game in the Spratlys Islands,” the AMTI said.

Iroquois Reef is located at the southern end of Recto (Reed) Bank, an area northeast of the Spratlys Islands believed to be rich in oil and gas, located some 125 nautical miles off the coast of Palawan.

Swarm tactics: militia ships


According to satellite images analyzed by the AMTI, the Chinese boats first arrived at Iroquois Reef in mid-April, just after the 200 massed at Julian Felipe (Whitsun) Reef dispersed.

The reef is within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone.

In late March, the Philippines flagged over 200 Chinese militia vessels swarming Julian Felipe Reef, a boomerang-shaped coral reef located northeast of Pagkakaisa (Union) Banks, claimed by the Philippines, China, and Vietnam.

The AMTI said the Chinese ships at Iroquois Reef, which were 40 to 50 meters long, were no more than 5 through early June. It increased to 15 by June 15 and doubled to an average of 30 in late July.


The average number of vessels fell back to 15 in August before rising again to 30 in late September, it said.

The AMTI noted a drop of Chinese ships after the Sept. 30 diplomatic protest: 35 vessels visible in satellite imagery on Oct. 2 but only 5 were present by Oct. 17.

The ships on Pagkakaisa Banks, which include Julian Felipe Reef, have increased in the past three months, the AMTI said. Most of the ships were Chinese but Vietnamese coast guard and fishing boats were also spotted.

Satellite imagery showed an average of 40 vessels visible in the northern half of Pagkakaisa Banks in August. By September, over 100 boats were spotted. It was more than 150 by October 17.

“In comparison to the massing at Whitsun Reef in March, these vessels are spread more evenly throughout the northern half of Union Banks, with relatively few at Whitsun itself,” the AMTI said.

The nature of Chinese militia vessels is quite tricky.

Most pose as fishing vessels but are not actually into fishing. Militias are being used to aggressively enforce China’s territorial claims in the South China Sea, including the West Philippine Sea, without sparking an overt war.

Formally, they are part of China’s armed forces.

The Philippines has increased its patrols in the West Philippine Sea early this year in response to the Chinese incursions.

The presence of Philippine ships, however, is nowhere near the scale of China’s deployment and the almost permanent presence of its coast guard and militia. 

“China’s strategy is to wear other countries down by sheer numbers, strength, and staying power. It wants other countries to simply relent and accept Chinese power as inevitable and unstoppable; hence what it is doing is a form of imposition and coercion,” Dr. Jay Batongbacal, director of the Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea, told Inquirer.net.

Diplomatic protests


A total of 153 out of 211 diplomatic protests filed by the Philippines in the last five years were filed in 2021 alone, according to a recent statement of the Department of Foreign Affairs.

The Philippines early this week protested China’s series of unlawful challenges against Philippine authorities patrolling the West Philippine Sea.

“The Philippines filed another protest on October 20, this time about Chinese vessels challenging its patrol ships in the Spratlys with horns, sirens, and radio communications. If this massing of militia vessels at Union Banks continues, more diplomatic protests are likely to follow,” the AMTI said.

Other options


Batongbacal said that aside from filing diplomatic protests, the Philippines could also work together with other nations to expose and reject China’s aggressive actions in the West Philippine Sea.

“Diplomatic protests alone will not make them leave; protests serve to clearly establish and document the country’s legal and political position,” he said.

“The Philippines should continue to document China’s activities in the West Philippine Sea, day after day, year after year. But more than protests, it should also take other actions in concert with other nations to shine a light upon and clearly reject China’s behavior,” he went on.

An example of an action that the Philippines could take would be calling out China’s illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing (IUUF) activities within the EEZ of other countries in all available international forums, Batongbacal said.

Another is to continually show the world China’s IUUF and maritime militia activities. The Philippines can also begin talks with other countries to closely monitor and exchange info and expose Chinese maritime activities that damage and overexploit the marine environment, he said.

China claims almost the entire South China Sea through its nine-dash line, although the Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration has ruled against it.

President Rodrigo Duterte has downplayed China’s aggressive behavior in the West Philippine Sea in attempts to pursue friendly ties with Beijing for economic investments and loans.