Agencies urged: Drop profit from vaccine deals
State agencies should give up any opportunity to make a profit when buying vaccines for COVID-19 despite the government’s dire need of cash for disaster response, Sen. Ralph Recto said on Thursday.
In a statement, Recto urged the Philippine International Trading Corp. (PITC), an agency overseen by the Department of Trade and Industry, to waive the customary 1 to 4 percent service fee it charges for every transaction.
“This is not the time to reap a pandemic windfall. When private corporations are waiving fees and writing off interests, a state agency should avoid being accused of disaster profiteering,” he said.
On verge of deal
The Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases, the temporary body overseeing the administration’s coronavirus response, announced on Thursday that the government was on the verge of securing a COVID-19 vaccine for the country.
US pharmaceutical giant Pfizer Inc. and its German partner BioNTech announced earlier this week that their experimental COVID-19 vaccine was more than 90 percent effective and that they were looking to secure US emergency use authorization this month.
President Duterte on Tuesday said the Philippine government would borrow $300 million (P14.5 billion) to buy COVID-19 vaccines.
Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez earlier said PITC, a state-owned trading company, had been tapped to buy COVID-19 vaccines before the end of the year.
But according to Recto, PITC charges a commission of 4 percent for projects with a total contract price of P25 million and below, and 1 percent for projects P700 million and above.
“It could potentially earn hundreds of millions in commission for what is essentially an easy ‘pasabuy’ gig,” Recto said, referring to a popular trading practice by which purchases are lumped with other transactions to save on costs.
Recto said that with PITC waiving what he described as “middleman charges,” it could save the “cash-strapped, debt-assisted government” much needed funds, which can be used to save lives and jobs.
“What can, for instance, P100 million in service fee achieve? This can buy thousands of [personal protective equipment] for our hospitals, or millions of learning modules for our schools,” he said.
According to Recto, the expectation that a government-to-government transaction will save money will not happen if the government agency on the Philippine side will be entitled to add-on charges.
“I have no doubt that the PITC will agree to this proposal, more so the four Cabinet members on its 11-person board—the secretaries of [trade, environment, agriculture, and the National Economic Development Authority]. They are good people,” he said.
Recto said he would push for the inclusion of a no-commission rule as a special provision in the proposed General Appropriations Act for 2021.
He said the government should lead with the example of volunteerism during the pandemic.
“If citizens and corporations alike are volunteering their services, equipment and facilities for free, a government corporation should do no less, and has no choice but to follow the ‘bayanihan’ example,” he said.
The Philippines has the second largest number of coronavirus infections in Southeast Asia, behind Indonesia.
On Thursday, the Department of Health (DOH) reported 1,407 additional coronavirus infections, bringing the overall number of confirmed COVID-19 cases to 402,820.
Davao City had most of the new cases, 214, followed by Eastern Samar and Rizal (75 each), Cavite (64) and Quezon (54).
The DOH said 211 more patients had recovered, raising the total number of COVID-19 survivors to 362,417. But the death toll rose to 7,721 with the deaths of 11 more patients.
The deaths and recoveries left the country with 32,682 active cases.
Thursday’s report included for the first time “moderate” cases, following a World Health Organization reclassification, the DOH said.
Moderate cases have no severe pneumonia, it said.
Of the 32,682 active cases, 0.1 percent were moderate, 83.6 percent were mild, 9.4 percent asymptomatic, 2.4 percent severe, 4.4 percent critical. —WITH A REPORT FROM DONA Z. PAZZIBUGAN
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