Gov’t not to blame for delayed vaccine delivery, Panelo tells Robredo

Published February 21, 2021, 1:25 PM

by Genalyn Kabiling

The Duterte administration is not at fault for the delay in the delivery of the coronavirus vaccines to the country, Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo told Vice President Leni Robredo over the weekend.

Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo (PCOO)
Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo (PCOO)

Panelo informed Robredo that the arrival of the initial batch of doses of vaccines from Pfizer has been hampered by issues related to indemnification requirements. A bill seeking to establish an indemnification fund for people who suffer bad side effects after getting the COVID vaccines is already pending in Congress, he said.

The vice president earlier expressed concern about the delay in the country’s vaccination program, saying that even Bangladesh has began its inoculations ahead of the Philippines.

“Alam mo ikaw VP Leni. Parang ikaw hindi ka nagbabasa ng dyaryo, hindi ka nakikinig sa mga komentaryo. Mayroon naman Senate hearing, nagpapaliwanag naman yan si Sec Charlie Galvez at sinasabi kung bakit nade-delay at hindi natin kasalanan (You know VP Leni, it seems that you’re not reading the newspapers, you’re not listening to commentaries. There have been Senate hearings and Secretary Charlie Galvez has explained the reason for the delay and it is not our fault),” Panelo said during his “Counterpoint” program Saturday, Feb. 20.

Panelo explained that Pfizer, one of the country’s vaccine suppliers, wanted legal protection from possible lawsuits in case of complications from the vaccines. 

An initial 117,000 doses of Pfizer were supposed to be delivered this month under the World Health Organization-led COVAX facility. The delivery however has been held up pending the passage of the law requiring the government instead of pharmaceutical firms, to give compensation to persons suffering adverse effects from the vaccines.

“Naghahanap sila ng indemnification clause. Kailangan daw mayroon tayong batas na pag mayroon side effects itong Pfizer sa mga nagpabakuna, eh kailangan tayo ang managot. Tayo ang gumastos. ‘Yun ang naging dahilan (They are looking for an indemnification clause. They said we must have a law that if there should be any side effects from taking the Pfizer vaccine, we will take responsibility, we will pay the compensation. That’s the reason),” Panelo said.

He noted that the Dengvaxia controversy has probably prompted vaccine suppliers to pursue the indemnity clause in the supply arrangements with the government.  Pfizer apparently wanted to avoid suffering the legal mess confronting the pharmaceutical company that developed Dengvaxia, he said. “Madaling sabi, natakot (In other words, they are scared),” the Palace official said.

The President has already certified as urgent the proposed indemnification law to enable the delivery of the vaccines under the COVAX facility to the country. Panelo said Congress has yet to pass the bill.

“So VP Leni, ‘yun ang reason kung bakit na-delay. Hindi kasalanan ni Sec. Galvez, hindi kasalanan ng administrasyon. ‘Yun ang gusto ng Pfizer (So VP Leni, that’s the reason for the delay. It’s not the fault of Sec. Galvez, it is not the fault of the administration. That’s what Pfizer wants),” Panelo said.

In the same commentary program, the President’s legal counsel admitted he could not understand why the pharmaceutical firms were passing the responsibility to the government if their COVID-19 vaccines fail. He said the country appeared to be being held “hostage” by the vaccine manufacturers.

“Parang asiwa ako doon (I’m uneasy about that) Biro ninyo we have to assume the responsibility of adverse effects of their creation. Ngayon lang layo.. Bakit? (Why?),” he said about the indemnity requirement by the vaccine makers.

Panelo however recognized that the country has “no choice” but agree to the suppliers’ requirement to get the much-needed vaccines amid the pandemic.

‘Wala naman kayo choice kasi sabi nila ‘Kung ayaw ninyo huwag. Hindi kami magbebenta sa inyo.’ Kaya ngayon hostage naman tayo kaya sige na nga. Anyway okay naman bakuna ninyo (We have no choice because they said, ‘If you don’t want, then so be it. We won’t sell our products to you.’ Now we’re held hostage so we decided to agree with them. Anyway, their vaccines are okay),” he said.