‘Hindi tayo mayaman,’ as Duterte rues COVID vaccines going to highest bidders

Published February 2, 2021, 11:11 AM

by Genalyn Kabiling

The coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccines are now being sold to the “highest bidder”, leaving poor countries like the Philippines scrambling for the remaining supply.  

President Duterte made the latest stark observation about the world’s dash to acquire supplies of the life-saving vaccines during his public address on state television Monday night.

President Rodrigo Roa Duterte talks to the people after holding a meeting with the Inter-Agency Task Force on the Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) core members at the Malacañang Golf (Malago) Clubhouse in Malacañang Park, Manila on February 1, 2021. (RICHARD MADELO / PRESIDENTIAL PHOTO / MANILA BULLETIN)

According to the President, the country’s “greatest disadvantage” was being poor, but his government was able to allocate funds to secure vaccines for majority of Filipinos.

“Alam mo ho itong problema talaga ng COVID hindi ganoon kadali. For one, ang greatest disadvantage natin is hindi tayo mayaman at ito labanan ito ngayon sa highest bidder nga (You the problem with COVID is it’s not that easy. For one, our greatest disadvantage is we are not rich and it is now a fight for the highest bidder),” Duterte said.

“Kung sino ‘yung makabayad ng una, mag-deposito na, tapos lalo na kung ‘yung bansa na ‘yon ang humihingi ng supply ng vaccine is the country where the factory is located — tawagin natin factory — nandiyan, nauuna talaga sa kanila (Whoever can pay first, make a deposit, especially if the country seeking the vaccine supply is the country where the factor is located, they really get ahead of the line),” he added.

As countries go on buying sprees for the most promising COVID vaccines, the President was optimistic that the cost of these vaccines will eventually stabilize. 

“Iyong mga price-price haggling lang ‘yan eventually ‘yung mag-taper off ‘yan into a uniformity sa prices (The price haggling will eventually taper off into a uniformity of prices),” he said.

Duterte also told the nation “not to worry” about the vaccination program, saying the government, through vaccine czar Carlito Galvez Jr., continues to negotiate for ample vaccines from suppliers. 

He also said the government has secured funds for vaccine procurement, citing the financial aid from multilateral lenders such as World Bank and Asian Development Bank.

Any financial transaction related to the vaccine purchase must still pass the scrutiny of Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III, he added.

“Huwag ho kayong maniwala, just stick with General Galvez. Huwag na kayong — huwag kayong lumipas sa kanya or ignore him and believe the others (Do not worry, just stick with General Galvez. Do not ignore him and believe the others),” he said.

“Mayroon tayong pangbayad. Ang Asian Development Bank pati ang World Bank magpahiram sa atin para ibayad natin sa vaccine na bilhin natin (We have money to buy. The Asian Development Bank and World Bank have lent us money to procure vaccines),” he added.

The government has decided to buy more vaccine supplies of the vaccines to cover more than 90 million Filipinos, anticipating the delays in the manufacturing and delivery of the drugs.

Dominguez, in the same meeting with the President, said the government intends to secure 178 million doses of coronavirus for 92 million Filipinos, more than the original target of 148 million doses for 70 million people.

The country’s vaccine supplies will be sourced from AstraZeneca, Pfizer, Novavax, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson, and Sinovac.

So far, Galvez said the government has locked in 108 million vaccine doses from various suppliers abroad. The supply agreements are expected to be finalized next week. 

An initial shipment of around 3 million doses of vaccines are expected to arrive in the country this month, Galvez said. 

Among the priority recipients of the government’s free inoculations are medical frontliners, seniors, poor citizens, and the uniformed personnel.

Galvez has recommended the inclusion of the “economic frontliners” to the list of priority beneficiaries of the vaccine rollout.