Senate committee prepares for first hearing on COVID-19 vaccine issues

The Senate Committee of the Whole is preparing for its initial public hearing on January 11 on the reported delays in the purchase and in the preparation for distribution of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccines.

Senate President Vicente C. Sotto III said committee staffers are now busy preparing a list of invitations to resource speakers who would come from the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF), Department of Health (DOH) and those involved in the vaccination program.

Senate President Vicente Sotto III (Joseph Vidal/Senate PRIB/ MANILA BULLETIN FILE PHOTO)

Sotto said a list of resource speakers sought to be invited to the public inquiry sent by opposition Senator Francis ‘’Kiko’ N. Pangilinan was ‘’masyadong madami’’ (it is too long).

The convening of the Senate as a Committee of the Whole was sponsored by Pangilinan.

Sotto said he advised Pangillnan’s staff to reduce the list of the two dozen resource persons to be invited to the Senate to discuss the COVID-19 vaccine issue.  He said  all the 24 speakers could not possibly be asked to discuss the issues.

This difficulty arises when each of the 23 senators, who will be physically or virtually present, would be given 10 minutes each to field their questions.

Sotto said the public hearing would be restricted to bare essentials as the committee would conduct another hearing.

“Matagal pa naman yan dahil nadelay nga ang pagkakabili natin, pagdating dito sa atin ichecheck pa ng FDA yan. We have plenty of time to go about it. Ilan uunahin, paano procedure, saan itatago. kasama sa 72.5-B na nilagay sa budget kasama rin kung saan itatago o itatabi (The hearing might take long as the purchase of vaccines has been delayed. Upon their arrival, the vaccines would be checked by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Will we determine who or what to take up first, what is the procedure, where to store them…Is the P72.5 billion in the budget within  reach),” he said.

The Senate Chief said the proposal of Minority Leader Franklin M. Drilon to call the commander of the Presidential Security Group (PSG) to the hearing could be taken up in later hearings as the controversial ‘’illegal, unauthorized’’ vaccination of some PSG members was not taken up during a Senate privilege speech.

On complaints that the FDA takes too long to make recommendations on drugs it has inspected, Sotto replied: ‘’Napakatagal ng panahong tama ka. Napakatagal na, napakabagal, napakaraming ganun. Siguro meron naman magiisip na maiimbestiga tungkol dyan, ang daming reklamo, ang tagal daw.’’ Ilan ang nakapending sa FDA na mga gamot. (You are right, FDA takes too long, it is too slow. There are many similar instances. Maybe there are those who want the FDA investigated. There are many complaints. It is very slow. There are many drugs pending at FDA),” he said.

‘’Yun ang imbestigahan ng DOJ (Department of Justice) bakit ang PSG ang iimbestigahan? ano ang nasa batas. Ano ang nasa batas wala, wala namang nakalagay sa batas na kapag uminom ka ng gamot na di registered sa FDA may kasalanan ka, wala. Walang batas against suicide kaya ano ang iimbestigahan ng DOJ, yung mga doktor na nagsaksak, eh paano kung di doktor, kung sila sila? (That is what the DOJ should investigate. Why probe the PSG? It is not in the law. There is nothing in the law that states that you are to be held liable if you drink a drug that is not FDA-registered. No violation. There is no law against those who commit suicide. The DOJ should investigate the doctor who made the injection. If there is no doctor, who are they),’’ he asked.

On Malacanang’s travel ban due to the emergence of a COVID-19 variant, Sotto said: ‘’Tama lang yun. Di pwedeng sabihing mabilis o mabagal dahil ginawa agad, ganun dapat ginawa noong Enero’’ (That is correct. It is correct to impose the ban. That should have been done in January the first time the COVID-19 started in Wuhan, China)