By Mario Casayuran
The Senate finance committee assured the public on Friday of the passage of a proposed P1.16 billion supplemental budget to finance the health assistance to individuals vaccinated with the controversial ‘’Dengvaxia’’ anti-dengue vaccine.
The passage of the proposed 2018 supplemental budget was expected to be made when the Senate, along with the House of Representatives, opens the third regular session of the 17th Congress. Both legislative chambers are now on a seven-week sine die adjournment that began Friday.
Sen. Loren Legarda, committee chairwoman, issued the assurance after the Senate adjourned its session at 2 a.m. Thursday without taking up the measure.
`The Legarda committee filed Committee Report 395 after the House of Representatives transmitted House Bill No. 7449, covering the supplemental budget for fiscal year 2018 for this specific purpose.
The Committee Report took into consideration the Senate Bills filed by Senators Legarda, Richard J. Gordon, and Joseph Victor ‘’JV’’ Ejercito on the Dengvaxia issue.
Legarda said she was ready to sponsor the Committee Report last Wednesday night and ‘’had repeatedly asked my colleagues to allow me to take up the measure, particularly during the short breaks while we were taking up the (proposed) Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) but I was told that BBL must be finished first. I respected that and waited.’’
During the Senate plenary session last Wednesday, Legarda said her finance committee was ready for floor debate after receiving the House of Representatives- approved version of the proposed supplemental budget.
‘’There was a certification that it’s urgent from Malacañang. The Bureau of Treasury has certified that the funds are available. I leave it to the Body to decide — do we want to allocate it now or to make them wait for another two months for the medical assistance to be given?” she asked.
‘’However, when proposed Senate Resolution No. 738, expressing the sense of the Senate on the matter of the removal of a Chief Justice, was being debated on after the BBL was passed, the issue of lack of quorum was called,’’ she said.
“It was most unfortunate that because there was no more quorum, we had to adjourn,” she explained.
Following the outbreak of deaths linked to the exposure of victims to the Dengvaxia vaccine, the Department of Health (DOH) issued a demand letter to the vaccine’s manufacturer Sanofi Pasteur for the refund of unused vials of the anti-dengue vaccine, which was subsequently complied with by Sanofi Pasteur on January 19, 2018, paying off P1.16 billion to the Philippine Children Medical Center (PCMC).
The refund was then transferred by PCMC to DOH which, in turn, remitted it to the Bureau of the Treasury on January 26, 2018.
Legarda pointed out that “the problem also was Congress was being rushed to pass this measure when the funds have been there all along.’’
‘’Just the same, I guarantee that we will take this up as the first agenda when we resume our session after the State of the Nation Address (SONA) in July,’’ she stressed.
Legarda assured the public, all the victims and their families, that the bill would be immediately approved ‘’to provide much-needed aid to the affected families and ensure that the medical assistance program is not yet too late in terms of making sure that we keep our children safe and healthy.’’