Lacson bares how Duque ‘dropped ball’ on Pfizer deal
Just one document that Health Secretary Francisco Duque III failed to submit was the cause of the Philippines missing out on a chance to acquire 10 million doses of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine as early as January, an opportunity that eventually went to Singapore.
Sen. Panfilo Lacson made the disclosure on Wednesday night as he pointed to the Department of Health (DOH) chief as the one who “dropped the ball” by failing to submit a confidentiality agreement that would have allowed the transaction to push through.
That ultimately made the Philippines lose precious time to curb the pandemic as wealthier countries had begun cornering the global supply of the vaccine, Lacson told the Inquirer, citing information relayed to him by Philippine Ambassador to the United States Jose Manuel “Babe” Romualdez in a phone call on Wednesday morning.
Lacson said Romualdez gave him the “imprimatur” to share the information with the public.
He said Duque’s “indifference” was to blame for failing to work on the necessary documentation for the deal, which began five months ago.
“The negotiation between US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and [Foreign Secretary] Teodoro Locsin Jr. as arranged by [Romualdez] started as early as July,” Lacson said in a series of Viber messages.
“Thus, they could have secured the delivery of 10 million Pfizer vaccines as early as January next year, way ahead of Singapore but for the indifference of Secretary Duque who failed to work on the necessary documentary requirement, namely, the confidentiality disclosure agreement (CDA) as he should have done,” Lacson said.
He said Romualdez told him that Pfizer’s country representative “was even following up on the submission of [the] documentary requirement.”
Not only that, Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III had also assured Romualdez and Locsin that “money would be made available,” Lacson said.
“As we now know, Singapore has the vaccines and we don’t,” he said.
Lacson said Duque’s statement that negotiations with Pfizer were going on was technically correct, but it was not the whole truth.
“[But the] negotiation, according to Ambassador Romualdez, is a renewed initiative after they missed the bus the first time,” he said.
“The more important question is, how many lives would be saved between January and when [if at all] the vaccines may be made available again to Filipinos,” Lacson said.
In a media forum earlier Wednesday, Duque denied there was negligence on the part of the DOH.
“First of all, there is no such thing as dropping the ball. If you look at the statement, the negotiations are ongoing,” he said.
“I just want to make sure that the provisions [of the CDA] are not loose or disadvantageous to the government,” Duque said.
Duque explained that it was only on Sept. 24 that the DOH was informed that instead of the Department of Science of Technology (DOST), the DOH would be the agency to sign the deal with Pfizer.
The order, he said, came from the Office of the Executive Secretary.
To ensure that the government was not entering into an onerous or disadvantageous agreement, Duque said he had to have the CDA checked by lawyers from the DOH, DOST as well as the Office
of the Executive Secretary. He noted that by Oct. 20, he had already signed the document.
Asked if he thought Duque was being negligent or intentional, Lacson said: “I would say, only he knows the real reason for failing to accomplish such a simple documentary requirement.”
In a series of tweets on Tuesday, Locsin said he and Romualdez had arranged for the delivery of the vaccine with the help of Pompeo, with the purchase to be bankrolled by the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank (ADB).
“That said, my thanks just the same to … Pompeo. We—Babe Romualdez and I—got 10 million doses of Pfizer financed by World Bank and ADB to be shipped thru FedEx to Clark (airport) in January,” Locsin tweeted.
“BUT SOMEBODY DROPPED THE BALL. I have steel ball bearings. I just need a slingshot,” he added.
Without a vaccine, coronavirus infections in the Philippines continue to rise, with 1,156 new cases reported on Wednesday, raising the overall number of confirmed COVID-19 cases to 452,988.
Davao City reported the most number of new infections, 126, followed by Quezon City (66), Rizal (64), Bulacan (56) and Manila (38).
The DOH reported that 425 more patients had recovered, pushing the total number of COVID-19 survivors to 419,282. The death toll rose to 8,833 as 21 more patients succumbed to the severe respiratory disease.
The recoveries and deaths left the country with 24,873 active cases, of which 84.7 percent were mild, 6.7 percent asymptomatic, 0.3 percent moderate, 2.8 percent severe and 5.6 percent critical.
To date, the Philippines has secured only 2.6 million doses from AstraZeneca.
Though Mr. Duterte showed preference in the past for Russia’s vaccine, Sputnik V, it is unclear if the Philippines will get supplies or has secured a deal for the initial distribution scheduled in the first quarter of 2021. —WITH A REPORT FROM JOVIC YEE
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