Galvez: PH saved $700M from deals
The Philippines saved some $700 million after negotiations with COVID-19 vaccine manufacturers led to the reduction of the offering prices by about half, President Duterte’s vaccine czar said Monday as he defended the government deals against insinuations of overpricing and corruption.
In a late-night meeting with the President in Malacañang, Carlito Galvez Jr., who handles vaccine procurement for the government, also defended the need to uphold the confidentiality disclosure agreements with the vaccine manufacturers that prevent officials from disclosing the prices of the shots in the initial stages of negotiations.
Violating the agreements will make the Philippines risk losing the 148 million doses that it plans to buy, Galvez said.
According to Galvez, the negotiations conducted by the Philippines were deliberate and good, resulting in the country getting a price that was not too far off from that given to other countries in the case of CoronaVac, the COVID-19 vaccine developed by the Chinese drugmaker Sinovac Biotech.
Aside from CoronaVac, the Philippines will also buy vaccines from Moderna and Pfizer of the United States, AstraZeneca of Britain and Novavax of India.
“In fact, I can promise our countrymen that all of the negotiations were at cost, meaning almost no profit. And then when I computed all the brands, it turns out we were able to save $700 million. Meaning we were able to bring the offer price down by almost half,” Galvez said.
This was also why the initial plan to buy 70 million vaccine doses was increased to 148 million doses, he added.
Lawyers and experts were also included in the negotiations to make sure the Philippines would not end up at a disadvantage, he said.
He explained that confidentiality disclosure agreements were part of standard practice in negotiations, and the Philippines would have to abide by these or risk losing its integrity and credibility with the companies and jeopardizing negotiations.
He said the prices of the vaccines could be made public after the signing of agreements or at a time when the government felt it was necessary to disclose the prices.
Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said executive privilege covered the ongoing vaccine negotiations, which means details cannot be made public as this might affect the talks.
Since the procurement is government to government, it is akin to diplomatic discussions, Roque said.
“It comes under executive privilege,” he said.
But while details cannot be divulged during the negotiations, these can be made public at the proper time, he added.
Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon said earlier on Monday that the government should disclose the prices of the vaccines because it would use taxpayer money in buying the shots.
On Tuesday, the Integrated Bar of the Philippines said the Constitution required transparency in all transaction involving public funds.
Domingo Cayosa, the bar president, cited Article II, Section 28, and Article III, Section 7, of the Constitution, which stipulate that the government should “adopt a policy of full public disclosure on all transactions involving public interest and acknowledge the people’s right to information.”
“There is compelling legal basis for transparency, even under the COVID-19 emergency,” Cayosa said in a statement.
Sought for comment, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said the government procurement law authorized negotiated contracts during a state of calamity and other similar emergency situations.
But Guevarra, who also leads a task force that investigates graft in state agencies, declined to say whether the confidentiality disclosure agreements with the vaccine makers were “anchored on a sound policy,” as he had yet to read the documents.
Nonetheless, Guevarra said “absolute transparency” on the effectiveness and safety of the vaccines was needed, as this would affect public welfare.
In his televised address to the nation, President Duterte said the confidentiality agreements must be respected, and told Galvez to proceed with his procurement plan.
Mr. Duterte chided senators who he said preferred the Pfizer vaccine.
The Senate is conducting an inquiry into the administration’s vaccine program, and Sen. Panfilo Lacson said earlier on Monday that the probe had foiled an attempt to overprice the vaccines, preventing the loss of P16.8 billion.
“You want Pfizer, you senators. In Norway, 25 persons died after receiving Pfizer vaccination. You want that? We will order that for you,” Mr. Duterte said.
‘Thanks but no thanks’
Senate President Vicente Sotto III on Tuesday denied that the senators preferred the Pfizer vaccine.
“We do not favor any vaccine,” Sotto said in a Viber message to reporters. “To his offer, thanks but no thanks.”
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has authorized the emergency use of the Pfizer vaccine in the Philippines, making it the first COVID-19 shot to get regulatory approval in the country.
FDA chief Eric Domingo said there might be a revision to the guidance for the use of the Pfizer vaccine to include an advisory against giving it to the elderly and the very frail. —WITH REPORTS FROM MARLON RAMOS AND MELVIN GASCON INQ
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