Senate leaders: No need for supplemental budget for vaccine purchase yet

Published August 9, 2021, 1:23 PM

by Vanne Elaine Terrazola

Leaders of the Senate believe that the government has enough funds this year to procure more doses of novel coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccines to include those for minors.

Sinovac’s COVID-19 vaccines (Keith Bacongco/MANILA BULLETIN)

Following Health Secretary Francisco Duque’s concurrence that children and teenagers should be already inoculated, Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto stressed that the government was appropriated with sufficient funds to include minors in its vaccination program.

“My understanding is there is sufficient budget cover to purchase vaccines. We haven’t spent most of it, as many vaccines are donated,” Recto said in text message forwarded to reporters.

“Surely, there will be a need to provide appropriations to purchase additional vaccines next year,” he noted.

Recto, however, said the government “should balance our vaccine procurement” and “procure more effective vaccines.”

Authorities, he reiterated, should not only rely on Chinese firm Sinovac “for most of our vaccines.”

“There are reports that Sinovac is less effective against Delta variant etc[etera]. My advice is to do risk management in vaccine procurement,” Recto said.

Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon shared Recto’s position, even as he noted that the 2021 budget did not include funds for vaccines.

“There are enough undisbursed budget items in the 2020 and 2021 GAAs (General Appropriations Acts) and the GOCCs (government owned- and controlled corporations) that can be realigned to vaccine purchses until December 31, 2021. The DOF (Department of Finance) must do a cash sweep as it did last year,” Drilon said.

He reiterated the report from the Commission on Audit (COA) finding that some P11 billion was “lying idle” in the Philippine International Trading Corporation (PITC) since December last year.

“Plus, government must prioritize funding and releases of social services, including vaccine procurement and ayuda, instead of non-essential budgets such as the P16.4 [billion] released to NTF-ELCAC from March [to] June, 2021,” he added.

“To the [first quarter], borrow if need be. No need for a special budget. At this point, there is sufficient budget cover,” Drilon maintained.

“What we need are funds and a better management of the vaccine program,” he pointed out.

Senator Juan Edgardo “Sonny” Angara, chairman of the Senate Committee on Finance, also agreed that COVID-19 vaccines should be already be administered to children, especially amid the emergence of the Delta variant.

Unlike Recto and Drilon, he expressed openness to the passage of a supplemental budget.

“Or it can be prioritized in the 2022 budget,” Angara also raised.

Senator Panfilo Lacson also said that instead of a supplemental budget, the 2022 National Expenditure Program (NEP) to be submitted by the executve department to Congress “can already include the additional funding requirements”.

At present, only Pfizer-BioNtech were issued with an emergency use authorization (EUA) for the use of their coronavirus vaccines on children aged 12 to 15.