Responding positively to President Duterte’s call, the House of Representatives on Monday completed from second to final reading its approval of COVID-19 Vaccination Program Act 2021 that would help guarantee swift procurement of vaccines against the dreaded novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19).
Barely two hours after passing House Bill 8648 on second reading, the Lower House registered 225 affirmative and zero negative votes to pass the bill on third and final reading. Six members of the Makabayan bloc abstained from the voting.
HB 8648 proposes to exempt procurement of COVID-19 vaccines from the tedious and long process of public bidding as provided under Republic Act 9148 or the Government Procurement Law.
The bill also provides an indemnity fund to compensate individuals who will suffer from side effects of COVID-19 vaccine inoculation. This also unburdens manufacturers from being held liable for such events.
“House Bill 8648, which I introduced in the House of Representatives, seeks to expedite the purchase and administration of vaccines to ensure that all Filipinos, particularly the elderly and those in the marginalized sectors, will be inoculated and protected from the deadly disease,” said Speaker Lord Allan Velasco.
The successive approvals of a bill is allowed only if the bill sought to be passed has been certified as an urgent administration measure by the President.
In the case of HB 8648, President Duterte sent to both the Senate and the Lower House his certification as to the urgency of the measure.
Leaders of both Houses have reportedly agreed to pass similar bills to avoid the conduct of bicameral conference proceedings that will fine-tune the disagreeing provisions of the Lower House and Senate versions.
Before its approval on second reading, sponsors of HB 8648 presented an substitute bill that apparently contained provisions that are identical with the Senate version.
HB 8648 authorizes local government units to purchase vaccines for the protection of their respective constituents against the COVID-19.
It also allows LGUs to advance down payments to foreign vaccine manufacturers of their choice.
The down payment will not be more than 50 percent of the total contract price for the preferred vaccines.
The bill also exempts LGUs from payment of customs duties, value-added tax, excise tax and other fees for the procurement, importation, storage, transport, distribution and administration of COVID-19 vaccines.