For the sake of transparency, President Rodrigo Duterte has ordered vaccine czar Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr. to disclose to Senate President Vicente Sotto III the details of the government's deals with COVID-19 vaccine makers.
Senator Christopher Lawrence "Bong" Go, Duterte's former special assistant and longtime confidante, made the disclosure on Tuesday.
Asked if Galvez would do so in an executive session with Sotto, Go, who chairs the Senate Committee on Health, said: "'Di ko alam anong paraan but mag-uusap yata sila ni SP (I don't know how they'll talk, but Galvez and Sotto will talk)."
This developed as Galvez warned Tuesday that the country could lose the opportunity to buy 148 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines if the prices of these vaccines are disclosed at this point.
“There is no corruption in our negotiations,” said Secretary Carlito Galvez, speaking in Filipino. “The price of the vaccines we are buying are covered by confidentiality disclosure agreements, so we cannot make this public. We could lose 148 million doses we are negotiating to buy from the vaccine companies if we violate these agreements.”
Galvez said there were safeguards against onerous provisions in the contracts, including the Department of Finance and the international banks that would provide loans for the vaccine procurement.
Galvez earlier said the country will buy 148 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines from Pfizer-BioNTech, Sinovac, AstraZeneca, Novovax, Johnson and Johnson, Gamaleya and Bharat BioTech.
In a privilege speech Monday, Senator Panfilo Lacson said differences in the quoted prices for Sinovac cast doubts on the procurement process and raised suspicions of corruption.
Lacson said the DOH originally quoted $19 for a dose of Sinovac’s vaccine, much higher than $5 reported in Thailand.
But on Monday night, President Rodrigo Duterte said non-disclosure agreements were “always included” in preliminary contracts with pharmaceutical companies.
In a pre-recorded address, Duterte said an NDA typically protects medical trade secrets, special prices given to a particular country and the timeline of the vaccine.
“Every negotiation would be another agreement. It does not involve money. But one thing is certain: you cannot divulge the contract price agreed upon,” he said.
Duterte said signing an NDA is a “practice of the industry” since many countries are scrambling to buy COVID-19 vaccines.
“They cannot reveal the price because some countries will be at the losing end,” he said in a mix of English and Filipino.
He also challenged “doubting Thomases” to handle the vaccine procurement instead, saying the government would even hand them their plans.
Duterte said the vaccine supply agreements would be final only after he and Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez have reviewed and approved the proposals.
The President also ordered Galvez to ignore congressional investigations and proceed with the government’s vaccine procurement plan.
“Now I’m telling General Galvez just follow your game plan,” he said. “Never mind the investigation because we will encounter delays once the vaccine arrives.”
Lacson on Tuesday asked government officials how long the pricing would remain confidential.
"Okay, fine, if you don’t want to divulge [the prices]. But the question is up to what point could they hold on or not disclose the prices of the vaccines?" Lacson said on ANC's Headstart.
He said the public must know because the vaccines are being bought with public funds.
He said the controversy over Sinovac should be a hard lesson on honesty and transparency for officials in the program.
"Had the officials been forthright about the conditions of negotiations with Sinovac early on, there would have been no speculations or suspicions about the matter," he said.
“If they had been more forthright and honest in their responses in our first hearing, it wouldn't be focused on Sinovac,” he added.
Although Congress – the Senate and House of Representatives – are willing partners of the executive department, lawmakers “need to be informed also what happened to the appropriations we gave you,” Lacson said.
“When the Senate hearings raised more questions than answers about Sinovac, our officials were both tongue-tied and stuttering, leaving us with a string of flip-flopping pronouncements,” Lacson said in his privilege speech Monday.
He also dismissed administration suggestions that the senators’ questions were politically motivated.
"I haven’t heard of any senator who has expressed preference for the Pfizer vaccine or any brand for that matter,” he said.
“What we are doing in the Senate is an exercise of our oversight function over the appropriations laws that we passed, particularly on the purchase of the vaccines,” he added.
In other developments:
• The Integrated Bar of the Philippines on Tuesday said a "compelling legal basis" exists for government transparency on vaccine procurement even if the country is under a state of public health emergency due to the COVID-19 pandemic. IBP president Domingo Egon Cayosa said Filipinos have the right to be informed of the vaccines that the government intends to purchase, citing provisions of the 1987 Constitution and an executive order issued by President Rodrigo Duterte.
"Transparency is helpful in establishing facts, dispelling doubts and suspicions, countering propaganda, minimizing political posturing, curbing corruption, promoting accountability, nurturing cooperation, and in enhancing trust in our country’s governance," Cayosa said, in a statement.
• Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said the non-disclosure of prices was a marketing strategy employed by pharmaceutical companies. “They don’t want to disclose details because their products are all under development, so there is competition,” she said in Filipino. All details would be disclosed to the public once the contract with the pharmaceutical firm has been effected and the deliveries arrive, she said.