By Hannah Torregoza
Senator Loren Legarda on Sunday said the Department of Health (DOH) has enough funds to assist the Dengvaxia vaccinees even if the Senate was unable to pass the P1.16-billion supplemental budget bill when Congress adjourned last May 31.
But Legarda said she will make sure that the Senate will immediately tackle the measure and approve it on third and final reading once they resume sessions in July.
“On July 24, I will immediately push for the agenda for sponsorship on the supplemental budget bill and I hope there won’t be so many interpellations,” Legarda said in a Radio DzBB interview.
“But I just want to clarify, I was ready to sponsor the measure that time. But the BBL (Bangsamoro basic law) had to be taken up first,” she said.
The Senate failed to pass the measure before it adjourned sessions last May 31, Thursday morning due to lack of quorum.
Legarda, chair of the Senate finance committee, explained that Senate President Vicente Sotto III and Minority Leader Franklin Drilon had an agreement that the measure would be tackled after discussing the resolution questioning the legality of Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno’s ouster by the Supreme Court.
The upper chamber, however also failed to adopt the resolution, along with the supplemental budget bill.
Legarda said she was ready to defend the measure and even showed the Senate minority bloc a certification from the Bureau of Treasury as proof that the funds are already available.
“Kaya sabi ko noon, nabiktima na ang mga bata, naturukan nan g hindi dapat turukan. Nandyan naman ang mga pondo, dapat matulungan sa lalong madaling panahon. Ngunit hindi naipasa at halos dalawang buwan ang off-session,” she lamented.
The proposed P1.16-billion fund would come from the partial refund Sanofi Pasteur returned to the Philippine government for the unused vials. Sanofi is the French manufacturer of the Dengvaxia vaccines that the national government under the Aquino administration, used for the anti-dengue immunization program.
But even if they failed to pass the bill, Legarda said she will ask the Department of Health (DOH) to use whatever available funds they have to help Dengvaxia vaccinees.
“Napakalaki ng pondo ng gobyerno. May pondo ang DOH. The government should never be helpless in helping the people,” she said.
“Kaya hihilingin ko kay Secretary (Francisco) Duque (III)…na tulungan na ngayon. I’m sure may contingency funds; marami pong pondo. So we will find a way,” she said.
Once the supplemental budget is passed, Legarda said she hopes the DOH would be able to utilize it effectively and implement it consistent with Commission on Audit (COA) rules and regulations.
“I’m sure there is a budget, whether its under PhilHealth or DOH. I will look into the possibility of it being budgeted under PhilHealth to ensure that after this fund expires, the vaccinees are still covered,” she said.
“But the expiration of these funds is a couple of years. But I will look into the possibility of all of them being covered because the (negative) effects (of the vaccine) might come much later,” she said.