After P127B in loans, where are the vaccines? | Inquirer News
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After P127B in loans, where are the vaccines?

By: - Correspondent / @melvingasconINQ
/ 05:38 AM March 19, 2021

Sen. Panfilo Lacson urged the government to be transparent about the true situation regarding its COVID-19 vaccine purchases after supplies arrived in small trickles despite a total of about P126.75 billion, mostly from foreign loans, set aside for their procurement.

The loans were made since last year from the World Bank (WB), Asian Development Bank (ADB) and Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB).

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“I wish they would be truthful, start from the basics by telling the truth. So long as the concerned authorities do not recognize the problem, we cannot come up with a solution,” Lacson said.

In a series of tweets, the senator called on the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) to give Filipinos a “lowdown” on the vaccine situation and to be decisive.

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Citing Department of Finance (DOF) records, Lacson said the Philippine government had obtained loans from WB, ADB and AIIB in six tranches: $100 million on April 20, 2020; $500 million on May 28, 2020; $600 million on Dec. 16, 2020; and $500 million, $400 million and $300 million separately in March.

The loans are on top of the P10 billion allocated by Congress last year for the purchase of vaccines under the Bayanihan to Recover As One Act, Lacson said.

He said the country’s finance team had the foresight to book the loans ahead of the rush, but the “other team” in the health management sector—specifically those in charge of vaccine procurement—did not seem to do their part early enough.

‘Other team didn’t act early’

Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque declined to comment on Lacson’s statement, saying the IATF was to meet later on Thursday evening and that he would address the issue in a briefing on Friday.

“Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III had repeatedly said we have enough funds and the DOF should be commended for having the foresight in taking the initiative to negotiate for the loans much ahead of time. However, no matter how efficient the DOF team is, why did the other team not act early?” Lacson said.

He asked why the purchased vaccines have not arrived, noting that the first batches of COVID-19 shots were donations from the international vaccine pool, Covax, and from the Chinese government.

The Philippines has so far received 600,000 doses of CoronaVac made by Sinovac Biotech from China, and 525,600 doses of AstraZeneca from the Covax facility.

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“There should no longer be a problem since we have the money to spend, which were the loans,” he said.

He dismissed explanations by IATF officials on the reasons for the delay and said they were trying to flatter the public with claims of a faster pace of vaccination.

“They keep harping on more speculative than real,” he said, citing the IATF’s pronouncement that the government will be able to inoculate 450,000 people a day starting April.

But at the rate the vaccination rollout is going, which is 4,000 jabs a day, the Philippines will achieve herd immunity only in 2033, Lacson said.

“It would be better if our authorities refrain from giving such statements because it is the government’s credibility that suffers, and the people will doubt them all the more because they know when they are being taken for a ride,” he said.

Partners, not competitors

The government’s vaccine supply also suffered from “overregulation,” Lacson said, saying the private sector seemed discouraged from offering to donate half of their vaccine purchases if they were allowed to deal directly with the manufacturers.

He reiterated his call for the government to treat the private sector “as partners and not as competitors” in the procurement of the vaccines.

Lacson also asked whether the government was making “a study or a scientific analysis” of the spike in the number of COVID-19 cases in the country.

“They should at least be able to provide an explanation to the public so that we can also take the necessary precaution,” he said. —WITH A REPORT FROM LEILA B. SALAVERRIA

For more news about the novel coronavirus click here.
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TAGS: COVID-19, Foreign loans, P126.75 billion, procurement, Sen. Panfilo Lacson, transparent, vaccine purchases
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