Friday, October 8, 2010

Research on Bio Defense Vaccines

The U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) on Thursday announced three new contracts to fund research on vaccines to protect against emerging infectious diseases and biological threats that could be used in a terror attack.

Each project focuses on simple and efficient vaccine delivery approaches that could be deployed quickly. The total funding for the three contracts could reach 68 million dollars, depending on the successful completion of defined project milestones.

"These new contracts build on NIAID's commitment to support the advanced development of products that are important to the public health but often unattractive to investors in private industry, by bridging the funding gap with contracts intended to address specific health needs," says NIAID Director Anthony S. Fauci.

The three studies will focus on a dengue vaccine delivered by a needle-free device, an anthrax vaccine delivered orally and an anthrax vaccine delivered in conjunction with an adjuvant -- a compound that stimulates the immune system.

"Our goal is to improve vaccine delivery and the resulting immune response in a way that could be used to protect large numbers of patients," says Michael G. Kurilla, director of the Office of Bio-defense Research Affairs in NIAID's Division of Microbiology and Infectious Diseases.

Health Research Investment by America

The U.S. invested 139 billion dollars last year in health research from all public and private sources, according to a report released Thursday by nonprofit organization Research!America.

That amount represents only 5.6 percent of the 2.47 trillion dollars overall U.S. health spending in 2009 -- or 5.6 cents of every health dollar -- which varies no more than 0.2 percent from 2005 levels.

According to the report, the 2009 investment grew by only 0.1 percent over 2008. This small increase can be attributed largely to the federal stimulus funding for research provided through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. Federal research investment was nearly 46.8 billion dollars in 2009, up from 38.6 billion dollars in 2008.

The effects of the economic recession can be seen throughout the other sectors that fund health research and development -- industry, universities, state and local governments, philanthropic foundations, voluntary health associations, and independent research institutes -- where such investment remained essentially flat or declined in 2009. Industry was the largest source of health research funding in 2009 at 74.3 billion dollars, down slightly from the prior year's 74.8 billion dollars. All other sources combined invested 17.8 billion dollars, compared with 17.1 billion dollars in 2008.

Miracle Rice

Environmental changes are to blame for a 15 percent drop in the yield of "miracle rice" – also known as rice variety IR8 – since the 1960s when it was first released and lauded for its superior yields that helped avert famine across Asia at the time.

IR8 used to produce 9.5 to 10.5 tons per hectare, significantly more than other varieties in the 1960s when average global rice yields were around only 2 tons per hectare. But, when grown today, IR8 can yield only around 7 tons per hectare.

"IR8 still performs very well considering global average rice yields still hover around 4 tons per hectare, but a 15 percent yield drop is significant and we needed to find out what was happening," said Dr. Shaobing Peng, a crop physiologist from the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) and coauthor of a study published in Field Crops Research about the declining yields of IR8.

Dr. Peng and his team grew rice from original IR8 seeds preserved in the International Rice Genebank and compared it to rice grown from IR8 seeds continuously grown and harvested over the last few decades. He wanted to see if the genetics of IR8 had changed over time and if that was responsible for the yield drop – or if something about the environment was the cause.

Motorcycle Helmet Law

With or without the Implementing Rules and Regulations, the Land Transportation Office (LTO) has declared a "ceasefire" in the enforcement of the national helmet law in Dumaguete and in Negros Oriental, because of the Buglasan Festival this month.

This was announced by LTO-Dumaguete chief Roland Ramos during a public hearing Friday on the pros and cons of the helmet law implementation.

Ramos said they have an agreement with the Buglasan Committee not to implement the controversial law while the province is celebrating the festival this October.

He said if the IRR arrives anytime this week, it will still go through a series of information dissemination and will not be implemented yet.

Meanwhile, a representative from the Department of Trade and Industry also said during the public hearing that standard helmets are already available in different motorcycle shops in Dumaguete.

At least three brands of helmets with ICC marks are available after passing through DTI regulations and standards set by law. These helmet brands include Index, Posh, and Soul, among others. (PNA)

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Philippines Number Game Jueteng

The Senate has spread its net wider on its planned inquiry into the juentengate scandal facing the Aquino administration indicating that it will summon newly-appointed Philippine National Police (PNP) Director General Raul Bacalzo, who is barely a week in his post, among those to be subjected to an investigation.

Blue ribbon committee chairman Sen. Teofisto Guingona III yesterday said Bacalzo is fourth in the list of those topping the guest list of the public hearing his panel will call Tuesday next week.

"He is no. 4 in our list of guests for the hearing and he should show up. He has to answer. He has to answer the allegations against him and he could tell us what he knows about the issue. I hope (former whistleblower) will

appear before us. But what we are trying to do first is to invite people rather than to subpoena them. (Retired) Archbishop (Oscar) Cruz is No. 1 in our guest list," the senator said, appearing in the weekly Kapihan sa Senado news forum.

There had been reports the past few days where Senate jueteng witness Sandra Cam alleged to have implicated Bacalzo as supposedly among those known to be coddling jueteng operators in the country.

She was quoted several times on radio interviews questioning Bacalzo's appointment to the post vacated by retired police Gen. Jesus Verzosa.

"There's no party affiliation issue here. There's no political color here. Elections had long been over. There will be no sacred cows here. What the law says, we have to enforce," he said.

Besides Bacalzo and the former prelate, the blue ribbon chair also invited to appear before them Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) Sec. Jesse Robredo and Undersecretary for peace and order Rico Puno.

As of press time yesterday, Guingona said the former prelate is yet to confirm to their invitation, the rest of those called that included Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) manager for special project development Romualdo Quiñones and five police regional directors have confirmed attendance.

"Puno confirmed attendance. Robredo, I can presuppose safely that he will come. Cam's name surfaced only last night because of reports on her new revelations that Bacalzo is supposedly involved. We will invite her nevertheless," he said.

"We should give him (Puno) the chance to answer that question when he comes to the hearing. Let's not preempt him. I think in the spirit of revealing everything, the good secretary will voluntarily reveal the names," he said.

Guingona, however, appeared indecisive on the matter of whistleblowers possibly implicating certain politicians, as to whether the Senate will observe parliamentary courtesy if and when some members of the lower house will be dragged in the course of their investigation.

Experience in the past showed some congressmen testifying in the Senate jueteng scandal inquiry.

"I will leave it to the lower house. The Speaker of the House has already pronounced that they will also conduct their own investigation. We have confidence in the capability of lower house to conduct their own investigation. I think they can do their job. But there's nothing stopping them from voluntarily appearing," he said.

Malacañang is bent on protecting Bacalzo, however, saying that it is challenging junior police officers who wrote Aquino questioning Bacalzo's credentials and Cam to come up with solid evidence to back their allegations against the newly-minted PNP chief, who was also implicated to illegal drugs in the letter.

Bacalzo clearly has the support of Malacañang with no less than President Aquino himself describing the accusations of the junior officers as "manufactured".

Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda insisted that, insofar as they in the administration are concerned, Bacalzo has a clean track record in his career at the PNP and they know nothing about the issues hurled against him until Cam publicly floated his alleged involvement in jueteng.

Prior to Cam's allegations that Bacalzon was receiving jueteng payoffs the other day, junior officers of the PNP appealed to Aquino through a letter to look into the controversies leveled against Bacalzo, from jueteng, illegal drugs, and his zero achievements when he led the PNP Task Force Usig. Lacierda only dismissed the allegations calling these "speculative".

"We have no way of knowing if this is a good faith accusation or a means to besmirch the reputation of General Bacalzo. We don't know that's why we need for those who allege to prove it, at least, tell us," Lacierda told reporters yesterday at a news conference.

Lacierda said Bacalzo, after all, claimed that he is willing to submit himself under investigation to satisfy all the doubting Thomases who keep on questioning his integrity and capacity as the new PNP chief.

But, in the same breath, Lacierda conveyed that this investigation process might not suffice because the whistleblower, Wilfredo "Boy" Mayor, who once tagged Bacalzo in the illegal numbers game during a Senate hearing in 2005 is already dead.

"For purposes of transparency, we'd like to see also those statements made by Mr. Boy Mayor. But remember, again let me emphasize, that Boy Mayor is already deceased. There's going to be difficulty in… If an investigation is found, can we rely on those statements? Because, again, we have to ask our legal advisers as to the effect of the statement so many years back on the relevance of it today," Lacierda argued.

Mayor was reportedly murdered by still unknown assailants last February 28 while he was on his way home after playing at a casino in Pasay City in an alleged effort to restrain him as he was about to reveal the names of eight to nine lawmakers who were involved in a public works anomaly.

The Palace spokesman insisted that Aquino's decision to appoint Bacalzo as successor to retired PNP Chief Dir. Gen. Jesus Verzosa was done based purely on merits and he would not in any way give him the position if he is of "dubious character".

Lacierda also explained that just because they haven't been made aware of the Senate's records on Bacalzo doesn't necessarily mean that Aquino did not put him under rigorous scrutiny before appointing him as the next PNP Chief.

"The Senate did not do anything; the Senate did not recommend prosecution charges against General Bacalzo at that point. So there will be no, really, no way for us to verify that. We would hope that if there was a probable cause that they would submit the names of these people in that jueteng hearing to the Ombudsman for investigation. None was done. We would normally go to the Sandiganbayan to check the records—there were no records adverse to Gen. Bacalzo. So there would be no basis for us to say that it escaped us. If a record was found then we would have done something about it," he argued.

Lacierda also conveyed that it was quite impossible for Bacalzo to become a recipient of jueteng payolas, as alleged by his critics, because he had been inside Camp Crame during the last nine years serving as one of the administrators of the PNP headquarters.

Bacalzo, meanwhile, declared an "all-out" war against jueteng during his first command conference at Camp Crame ordering the police to totally eradicate jueteng operations in the country.

Bacalzo ordered all regional directors, district directors and other concerned police units to intensify its campaign against the jueteng operations nationwide as he asked his men to have comprehensive plan in order to stop the illegal numbers game.

Admitting that eradicating jueteng would be very difficult, he expressed optimism that with the cooperation of all the police units concerned, it would be possible.

Bacalzo belied reports that he was receiving pay offs from jueteng lords saying that he has been detailed inside the PNP national headquarters since 2002.

It can be recalled that jueteng whistleblower Sandra Cam dragged Bacalzo into the jueteng controversy.

Bacalzo then denied that he personally knows Cam and he is willing to face investigation to prove his innocence at the proper forum and investigation.

Meanwhile, the Senate blue ribbon committee disclosed that Bacalzo will be invited for questioning to clear out his name into the jueteng controversy.

"He is No. 4 in our list of guests for the hearing and he should show up since he has to answer the allegations against him and he could tell us what he knows about the issue", Senate Blue ribbon committee chairman Sen. Teofisto Guingona said.

Aquino also defended Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) Undersecretary Rico Puno who Cruz also alleged to be one of two officials close to Aquino who are on the take from jueteng lords.

Aquino conveyed his confidence with Puno still has not wavered notwithstanding all the issues that have been hounding him lately—from the mishandling of the police forces during the recent hostage crisis to the latest development on jueteng.

"At this time, I still have confidence in him [Puno]. But I will talk to him as soon as I get back to Manila and I'll ask him of these allegations [on jueteng] and what his responses are," Aquino told reporters in a chance interview after leading the inauguration of Sibulan hydropower plant in Davao City, Thursday.

Aquino issued the statement after getting informed by newsmen on reports that Puno and former Philippine National Police chief Jesus Verzosa were purportedly receiving P5-million worth of jueteng payola every month.

But Aquino merely echoed the same doubtful reaction he conveyed when first confronted of the allegation made by Archbishop Emeritus Oscar Cruz that two of his trusted presidential aides have been receiving P2-million each per month from jueteng lords.

"Let me just go back, the figure is at P9-billion a year supposed to be profits from jueteng. Now they [Puno and Verzosa] are [said to be] getting, let's say two of them at P5-million, that's P20-million, P120-million a year, that's quite a huge money. But if they really are the protectors of this [jueteng], I think it's too small compared to that P9-billion," Aquino was quoted saying.

"And what's baffling is that, it started with two security aides [allegedly receiving] P2-million, days later it becomes P5-million. Maybe net week it would climb to P10 or P20-million [but] do they have reports that they carry with them or is it just a developing story?" the bullheaded Chief Executive added.

Aquino earlier deduced that this sudden cropping up of the jueteng issue early on in his administration was just a work of his detractors and his officials whom they were trying to incriminate were just victims of name-dropping.

He, nonetheless, claimed that he will check on these reports if these would ever get substantiated at all but he insisted that his officials who were being tagged on this issue should be presumed innocent until proven guilty.

"Let me reiterate that in times like these when unauthorized messages like in the text [messaging] or in the internet [are easy to circulate] accusations because [the accuser] won't be held accountable even if the accusation was not true. It's difficult because some reputations are being destroyed with very insufficient basis. Here we should fin out if [the accusations against my officials] really have a basis," Aquino explained.

Aquino relayed that he has already ordered someone to look into the entire issue on jueteng and he is just waiting their output.

The Chief Executive also previously mentioned about a so-called "comprehensive plan" that he asked DILG Acting Secretary Jesse Robredo, without imposing a specific deadline, to accomplish.

Manila Police District officer-in-charge, Chief Supt Roberto Rongavilla also vowed an intensified campaign against all forms of illegal gambling in the city, including the popular illegal numbers game.