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Congress skips bicam on indemnity bill for early transmittal to Palace

Malacañang said Wednesday that President Rodrigo Duterte will immediately sign into law a measure expediting the purchase and administration of COVID-19 vaccines and creating a P500 million indemnification fund.

This, after the House of Representatives agreed to adopt the Senate version of the proposed COVID-19 Vaccination Program Act.

“We expect that it will be transmitted to the Office of the President so it will be passed into law as soon as possible),” presidential spokesman Harry Roque said in an online press conference.

Roque said Majority Leader Martin Romualdez had told him that there is no need to come up with a bicameral conference report on the proposed measure since the House lawmakers adopted the senators’ version of the bill.

The House of Representatives on Tuesday night adopted Senate Bill 2057 or the proposed Covid-19 Vaccination Program Act of 2021.

But Romualdez said Speaker Lord Allan Velasco opted to adopt the Senate version to avoid a bicameral conference committee meeting to speed up the legislative process.

Under the approved measure, the Department of Health (DoH) and the National Task Force against COVID-19 are empowered to negotiate the purchase of COVID-19 vaccines and the needed supplies and services for their storage, transport and distribution for the national government, as well as local government units (LGUs) and the private sector.

LGU’s are authorized to directly procure ancillary supplies and services necessary for the storage, transport, development, and administration of COVID-19 vaccines through negotiated procurement.

The bill exempts LGUs from complying with the some provisions of the Government Procurement Reform Act as well as from customs duties and related taxes on the importation of COVID-19 vaccines to ensure the speedy procurement and effective administration of vaccines against the deadly disease.

The bill also provides a P500-million indemnity fund to compensate any inoculated person who subsequently experiences serious adverse side effects or worse, death.

Senator Francis Pangilinan, meanwhile, said with or without the new law, the executive department must get its act together and procure the needed vaccines.

Now that Congress had passed the law that would expedite their purchase and provide a P500-million indemnity fund, Pangilinan said the executive department must give the Filipino people a definite timeline for the arrival of COVID-19 vaccines.

Pangilinan, who delivered a privilege speech seeking a definite vaccine rollout schedule last Dec. 14, said the people, especially the health workers who face the dangers of COVID-19 every day, are demanding a specific date when the safe and effective doses of vaccine will land in their arms.

The opposition senator also called for transparency on the agreements that the government will enter into, saying that Filipinos should not be on the losing end of any deal even as they seek the precious doses of protection from the virus.

Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon said no more excuses for delays in the vaccination rollout would be accepted.

“There should be no more excuses. But I am holding my breath for the next excuse and finger pointing,” he said.

Senator Nancy Binay said that during the hearings they had with the IATF and DOH last year, they asked the government officials what were needed to hasten the procurement of vaccines.

“Every time there’s a hearing, they gave us a growing list of concerns that required our attention in the Senate--and to be fair, the Senate delivered,” Binay said.

As a matter of fact, she said, the initiative to come up with an indemnification law started from the Senate.

“And the general intent of the indemnification bill that I filed in January was more of building confidence and encouraging people to get vaccinated,” she said.

“And when did they say that an indemnification was a requirement in purchase agreements?” she asked.

Binay said the government’s piecemeal focus made everything worse.

In the Palace, the President’s spokesman said the Chief Executive preferred to take the vaccine produce by the Chinese state-owned SinoPharm, but said he would wait until it gets an emergency use authorization (EUA) from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

“The President really wants a Sinopharm vaccine but it has not obtained its EUA. That’s the reason the doctors, who are advisers of the President, are opposed to the idea. Better wait for the issuance of the EUA” presidential spokesman Harry Roque said.

The FDA has so far approved three coronavirus vaccines, namely those developed by Pfizer, AstraZeneca and Sinovac, for emergency use in the country.

It also recently gave the Presidential Security Group (PSG) a permit for the “compassionate” use of 10,000 doses of Sinopharm vaccines. Such a license allows the President’s security team to get such vaccine supply even without emergency use authorization.

Roque said the President wants to hold a small ceremony to thank China for the donated vaccines.

China will donate some 600,000 doses of vaccines developed by Sinovac.

Meanwhile, Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles said Wednesday the government stands by its COVID-19 vaccination cluster and negotiating panel despite mounting criticism of the delays in its vaccination program.

“We stand by the vaccination cluster and the negotiating panel that’s making all the arrangements with different brands. They’ve been able to secure doses,” Nograles told ANC’s Headstart.

Citing the extraordinary nature of procuring coronavirus vaccines, Quirino Rep. Junie Cua on Wednesday said the recently approved COVID-19 vaccination program bill prohibits private entities, particularly pharmaceutical firms, from selling the life-saving shots during the crisis.

Cua, one of the principal authors and sponsors of House Bill 8648, said private companies are only allowed to procure the vaccines for the inoculation of their employees.

“There is an abnormal supply situation,” Cua said at a news forum. “So if private entities are the ones to purchase [the vaccines], it should be for their own purpose only and not for commercial use.”

At the same time, Reps. Carlos Zarate and Ferdinand Gaite of Bayan Muna sought a congressional investigation into the inoculation President Rodrigo Duterte’s special envoy to China, Ramon Tulfo using smuggled vaccines from Sinopharm.

“The House should start the probe now as it appears that it is not only the Presidential Security Group (PSG) that has undergone VIP vaccinations but other government officials as well using smuggled vaccines, based on Mon Tulfo’s confession,” Zarate said in a statement.

“VIP testing and vaccination will not help in gaining confidence of our people in the program and it also undermines the prioritization that was previously laid down by the DOH [Department of Health],” he added.

Gaite said Tulfo’s use of smuggled vaccines should serve as grounds to deny him a license for distributing Sinopharm vaccines.

Topics: COVID-19 vaccines , Rodrigo Duterte , Department of Health , COVID-19 Vaccination Program Act
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