Go favors COA auditing Duterte admin on COVID-19 vax procurement

Senator Christopher “Bong” Go on Monday, November 21, said he is in favor of the Commission on Audit (COA) summoning members of former President Rodrigo Duterte’s administration to shed light on the non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) surrounding the COVID-19 vaccine procurement.

As chairman of the Senate Committee on Health and Demography, Go said he favors transparency even if there is an existing NDAs for the purchase of billions of pesos of the COVID-19 vaccines.

“Kung pwede nang ipakita, ipatawag po. Kung kailangang ipatawag ang mga previous secretaries na involved dito sa signing ng NDAs, I am for transparency. At karapatan po ng mamamayang Pilipino malaman kung magkano at saan binili at saan napunta ang pera ng gobyerno (If these agreements can now be shown, then let’s call them to the hearing. If there’s a need to call for previous secretaries involved in the signing of the NDAs, I’m for transparency. And the Filipino people have the right to know how much, where they bought and where public funds were used),” he said.

"I’m sure former President (Rodrigo) Duterte is for transparency also...I am for transparency at ayaw ko po na may masayang ni piso na pera sa gobyerno (and I don’t want even a single centavo of public funds to go to waste),” Go added.

“Malaking aksaya po ito hindi lang sa pera ng gobyerno pati rin po sa pribadong sektor na bumili o mga nag-donate (It was such a huge waste, not only to government funds, but also to the private sector and to those who donated),” he pointed out.

Go said among those who can be summoned by the COA are former Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez and former vaccine czar Carlito Galvez Jr.

The senator said the documents should be disclosed as long as it would not violate any agreement.

“Kung wala naman pong maba-violate, ipakita na (If there is no violation, they should show it),” the lawmaker said.

Questions about COA’s inability to audit the public funds used for the purchase of COVID-19 vaccines was raised during the Senate’s deliberation into the proposed P5.268-trillion national budget for 2023 last week.

According to the COA, it cannot liquidate the billions of public funds used to procure the vaccines due to the NDAs that the government entered into with vaccine suppliers.

It was also during the Senate deliberations on the 2023 national budget where senators were informed that about P15.6-billion worth of COVID-19 vaccines or 31.3 million doses were wasted and not used.

Former Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon earlier said the COA has the full responsibility to examine the government’s procurement of COVID-19 supplies, saying it is part of their mandate as stated in the 1987 Constitution.

“Yes, all the COVID supply purchases should be subject to COA audit. This is an obligation imposed by the Constitution on COA. The NDA cannot be cited to prevent an audit and full public disclosure of how public funds were spent,” Drilon said.

“Should PS-DBM, as the purchasing agent, refuse to give COA access to the documents, COA can refuse to approve the expenses, and consider the amounts unliquidated,” he stressed.

Former Sen. Panfilo “Ping” Lacson also supported calls to audit the state’s vaccine procurement program, saying the NDA argument could be just a mere “cover up” for the “unconscionable misuse of public funds at a time when our economy was already taking a beating because of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

“There are hundreds of billions of reasons to audit the government procured vaccines, especially after the issues that we repeatedly raised in the last Congress have not yet been answered concerning the grossly overpriced Chinese brand vaccine Sinovac compared to the other brands like AstraZeneca, Moderna and even the US brand Pfizer that SFA Teddy Boy Locsin had earlier booked but ignored by the DOH,” Lacson had also said in a statement.

“The new (Marcos) administration should pursue and resolve this matter to its logical conclusion. The Filipino people deserve no less,” he further said.