Solons, LGUs decry 'inaction' on vaccine purchase deals: Gov't playing God?

Members of the House of Representatives quizzed vaccine czar Carlito Galvez Jr. over the reported delays in the signing of multi-party agreements (MPAs) for the purchase of COVID-19 vaccines by local government units and the private sector.

Vaccine czar Carlito Galvez Jr. presents updates on COVID-19 vaccination program on July 12, 2021. (Screenshot courtesy of RTVM livestream)

At the House Committee on Economic Affairs's inquiry on the issue Thursday, September 9, Deputy Speaker Rufus Rodriguez questioned why the national government "has refused to sign any of the MPAs" supposedly submitted to the National Task Force (NTF) against COVID-19. He pointed out that COVID-19 Vaccination Program Act (Republic Act No. 11525) was basically enacted to expedite the procurement of the vaccines.

"I am really concerned because...there are pending MPAs with you and you have not signed it for wrong reasons. Reason of supply? If you signed them last March and April, then these MPAs would already have been sent to the suppliers," the Cagayan de Oro representative told Galvez.

"These are monies of the private entities and the LGUs...So the MPAs should be signed and then help them be able to get good pricing and even help them with the supply. You are saying, 'Let us throw this to the wastebasket' -- this particular bill that we worked hard ...People are dying because of the lack of vaccine," said an irked Rodriguez.

"I cannot fathom the reason why you have not signed MPAs...Explain to us that inaction and even failure to answer the letters of different local government and companies," he added.

Galvez repeated to the lawmakers that he had to hold off the signing of MPAs due to lack of supply in other countries, particularly from India, which reportedly suspended vaccine exportation until 2022 following the surge of COVID-19 infections among its own constituents.

Some vaccine makers are also not inclined to enter into MPAs.

He also cited considerations on the pricing, as provided under RA 11525, saying procurements of LGUs should match the prices of the national government's purchase. The vaccines bought by the NTF which ranged from $10 to $11 per dose.

Payments should also be released to vaccine makers only if the dates of delivery have already been ascertained.

MPAs, he added, cannot be signed "without a direct contract."

"Kasi maloloko po tayo ng mga manufacturer," Galvez said, pointing out that this was also in exercise of due diligence.

Economic affairs committee chairperson AMMBIS-OWA Party List Rep. Sharon Garin was also not convinced with Galvez' explanations, noting that other countries were still able to order a total of two billion vaccine doses despite the shortage.

"The national government is playing God here. They say they want to protect the LGUs, but the LGUs are protecting themselves, they have local autonomy. They know better how to be able to protect their money," Rodriguez said.

During the hearing, local government officials complained not getting any feedback from the national government on their planned purchase of COVID-19 vaccines.

Calapan, Oriental Mindoro Mayor Arnan Panaligan said a "deadlock" with the national government on the purchasing vaccines for his city.

The NTF confirmed that Calapan's MPA is still pending with them.

Ilocos Sur Governor Ryan Singson also lamented that thousands of his constituents who received Sputnik vaccines are still waiting for their second dose.

"We spent so much effort in attempt to procure additional vaccines for our constituents. We looked for funds, we bought refrigerators for our district hospitals. Ilocos Sur even bought a freezer van," Singson said in a mix of English and Filipino.

"Ginawa po namin lahat (We did everything). But then again, walang (There was no) feedback from the national government," he added.

Qurino Gov. Dax Cua also relayed the confusing instructions from the national government in vaccine prioritization. Most provinces are still not allowed to vaccinate individuals beyond the A1 to A3 priority groups, he said.