Senate Minority Leader Franklin M. Drilon on Monday said the mishandling of the Dengvaxia case by the Public Attorney’s Office (PAO) contributed to the delays in the arrival of COVID-19 vaccines in the country.
“To me, the indemnification requirement is borne out by the events that transpired in the Dengvaxia controversy,” he said.
“Why suddenly do the manufacturers require an indemnity clause? Because of their experience on the way the Dengvaxia controversy was handled against Sanofi,” Drilon stressed in an interview with ANC.
Vaccine czar Carlito Galvez earlier said that drug manufacturers are seeking indemnity agreements following the news of warrants of arrest against Sanofi officials involved in the Dengvaxia case.
“It should be looked at in the context of the way PAO Chief Persida Acosta handled the Dengvaxia controversy,” he added.
The senator lamented how the PAO chief’s handling of the case burdened the poor health workers who were made defendants in the cases filed all over the country.
Drilon said that given the unfortunate experience of health workers in the Dengvaxia case, it is only proper to include a provision in Senate Bill No. 2057 or the COVID-19 Vaccination Program Act of 2021.
The bill, he said, will shield volunteers like health workers who are authorized to carry out the COVID-19 vaccination program from suits and liabilities, except arising from willful misconduct.
However, Drilon clarified the “free and harmless” clause in the bill would apply only to vaccines validly procured, not to smuggled vaccines.
But the minority leader said the indemnity issue is not the only reason for the delay, as he cited mismanagement in the country’s COVID-19 vaccination strategy.
“To me, this is not the only reason. I think just like the way COVID-19 pandemic was handled, there is mismanagement in handling the supply agreements,” Drilon said.
“Even the President asked, where are the vaccines? This is already a sign of exasperation,” he added.
Among the 10 countries in Southeast Asia, six countries are already inoculating their citizens, namely: Singapore, Indonesia, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, and Myanmar. Only the Philippines together with Malaysia, Brunei and Thailand have not started the vaccination, he noted.
Drilon added that another factor, the refusal of the government to make advance payments, contributed to the delays.
“This advance payment is authorized under the law. We have to cue and we are last in the cue because of our failure to make an advance payment early enough,” he pointed out.
Under existing laws, Drilon said the government, including local government units, are allowed to make an advance payment beyond the mandated 15 percent cap, particularly in emergency situations such as the continuing COVID-19 pandemic.
Drilon also defended Congress against criticisms that the delay is caused by its inability to pass a measure that will provide for an indemnity fund.
“That’s totally unfair. There are indemnity agreements that have been signed in some instances and that was without a law. It is the mismanagement of this entire process that caused the delay in our procurement,” he said.
The former justice secretary said the President does not need a law to hold the manufacturers free and harmless except when they are negligent, emphasizing that the President has full power to bind the country.
He added that the government can easily tap into its billions of pesos contingent fund to fund an indemnification system.
Nevertheless, Drilon agreed that putting it clearly in the law will help improve the confidence level of the citizenry on the vaccines as he vowed support for the measure that will fast-track the procurement and administration of the COVID-19 vaccines.
“Even if I am in the opposition, this is a bipartisan measure and we will support it. We will support it with proper safeguards and correct principles. In fact, I have requested that I be made co-author even though I am the minority leader, because we want to show our people that when it comes to this matter there is unity in government,” Drilon said.