Senate sets 3rd hearing on government’s vaccine plan probe
MANILA, Philippines — The Senate Committee of the Whole will resume its public hearing into the government’s Covid-19 vaccination plan on Friday, January 22, as senators plan to raise more questions on the government’s deals with vaccine makers, particularly China’s Sinovac Biotech.
Friday’s hearing will be a continuation of the two hearings conducted by the Senate last week.
“With the approval of my colleagues, we will schedule another hearing on Friday at 10 a.m.,” Senate President Vicente Sotto III said during the chamber’s session on Monday.
This developed after Senator Panfilo Lacson, in a privilege speech, suggested an executive session where vaccine czar Carlito Galvez Jr. should disclose what price tag Sinovac and other drug firms are offering to the Philippines for their vaccine. Galvez has repeatedly refused to divulge the cost of vaccines supposedly due to a confidentiality agreement.
Lacson said an executive session would also allow senators to get responses to their questions that were left unanswered during the two hearings conducted last week.
Citing a conversation in a Viber group chat with him, Galvez, and Senator Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa, Lacson said the vaccine czar agreed to disclose to senators the price of the vaccines the government is eyeing to procure “under certain conditions.”
These conditions include senators being a signatory to the confidentiality agreement.
“I will leave it to the Senate President and our colleagues to decide if indeed there is a need to sign the confidentiality disclosure agreement,” Lacson said.
He, however, noted Sotto had informed him that the Senate has its own rules in which divulging information discussed during an executive session would merit expulsion.
“I’m willing to sign because after all we are covered by Senate rules, so what is a signature to commit ourselves or myself not to divulge what will be discussed in an executive session only for the spirit of transparency,” Lacson added.
Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon interjected, expressing reservations over the holding of the proposed executive session.
“The requirement that we sign for the non-disclosure agreement, to me, is insulting to the Senate… This is degrading for the Senate, as an institution, to agree upon,” Drilon said.
Senator Grace Poe agreed with the minority leader, saying senators should not be kept quiet on the matter.
“An open hearing or a public hearing is much better,” Poe said.
Further, she pointed out that the Senate hearing’s resource persons “cannot hide behind an executive.”
She explained that the chamber, with a two-thirds vote, can allow the disclosure of “the proceeding in an executive session.”
“This has happened a few times, if I’m not mistaken, during the Atio Castillo hearing and also some of the executive sessions that we’ve had on the Mamasapano,” Poe said.
“That’s one thing they should remember when they ask for an executive session. Otherwise, if we keep quiet on these matters it would almost look like we are enabling them to continue with whatever unsound practices they’re doing,” she added.
Asked whether the Senate Committee of the Whole would still go into executive session during the hearing on Friday, Sotto told reporters in a Viber message: “Executive session only if necessary and proper motion approved.”
Earlier, Galvez said the country’s deals with other firms would be compromised if he would divulge how much they were offering their vaccines to the Philippine government.
The Philippine government has already secured 25 million doses of China’s Sinovac vaccine, 50,000 of which will arrive by February.
The Philippines also earlier signed a deal with the Serum Institute of India for 30 million doses of the Covovax COVID-19 vaccine, which will be available by the third quarter of 2021.
Meanwhile, 30 million doses of vaccine from British drugmaker AstraZeneca, and 25 million doses of Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine are set to be acquired by the government.
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