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Public has legal basis to demand disclosure of COVID-19 vaccine prices

/ 03:35 AM January 20, 2021

MANILA, Philippines — There’s a “compelling legal basis” to grant the people’s request for the publication of COVID-19 vaccine prices even in the face of a pandemic, the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) said in a statement issued on Monday.

“Transparency is helpful in establishing facts, dispelling doubts and suspicions, countering propaganda, minimizing political posturing, curbing corruption, promoting accountability, nurturing cooperation, and in enhancing trust in our country’s governance,” Domingo Cayosa, IBP national president, said.

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“It is good to let the people know more about the COVID 19 vaccines, the decisions to be made for them, and the public funds therefor.  A well-informed citizenry will ‘heal as one,’ BETTER and FASTER,” he added.

According to Cayosa, Constitution has two provisions that mandate the government to make full public disclosure in transactions that involves the public interest — in this case, vaccines against a pandemic.

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These provisions are Article II in Section 28 and Ariticle III in Section 7.

Cayosa cited a case between former Solicitor General Francisco Chavez and the National Housing Authority which the Supreme Court decided citing those provisions.

Quoting the decision, Cayosa said: ‘These provisions of the Constitution seek to promote transparency in policy-making and in the operations of the government, as well as provide the people sufficient information to exercise effectively other constitutional rights.”

But Cayosa also mentioned that Executive Order No, 2 — signed by President Rodrigo Duterte himself — which provides a legal presumption favoring access to information.

“Executive Order No. 2 which was signed by President Rodrigo Roa Duterte on July 23, 2016 provides that ‘There shall be a legal presumption in favor of access to information, public records and official records’,” Cayosa said.

“The Freedom of Information E.O. acknowledges that ‘the incorporation of this right in the Constitution is a recognition of the fundamental role of free and open exchange of information in a democracy, meant to enhance transparency and accountability in government official acts, transactions, or decisions’.  It states that ‘the Executive Branch recognizes the urgent need to operationalize these Constitutional provisions’,” he added.

Secretary Carllito Galvez Jr., vaccine czar and chief implementor of the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF), and other government officials have maintained that they could not divulge prices of the CoronaVac — the vaccine made by Chinese pharmaceutical company Sinovac BioTech. It is one of the vaccines that will be used by the national government.

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The huge discrepancy between the selling prices of CoronaVac in the Philippines and in other countries prompted questions on whether the Philippines’ procurement is riddled with corruption — leading to calls for the publication of prices.

Last Sunday, Sen. Panfilo Lacson mentioned in a series of tweets that the Sinovac vaccine cost around $5, or around P240, per dose in some instances, but it cost  around $38, or around P1,800, in the Philippines.

Galvez still refused to reveal the price of the vaccines, saying that it would endanger the government’s deal with Sinovac, to which it was bound by a nondisclosure agreement.

He did say that the vaccine cost was no more than P700.

Sen. Sonny Angara insisted, however, that the original vaccine price — which had skyrocketed to over P3,600 per two doses — was revealed by the Department of Health around November.

During his taped briefing on Monday, Duterte defended Galvez, assuring that the vaccine procurement was not riddled by corruption. He also justified the government’s adherence to the nondisclosure agreement, as it had been an “industry practice.”

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TAGS: Carlito Galvez Jr., Coronavac, COVID-19 vaccine prices, Domingo Cayosa, IBP, Rodrigo Duterte, Sinovac Biotech
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