No customs delay for jab imports
MANILA, Philippines — President Rodrigo Duterte’s chief economic manager has assured the private sector that its vaccine imports would breeze through customs just like the doses brought in by the government.
Citing a report from Customs Commissioner Rey Leonardo Guerrero, Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III said the 500,000 Sinovac doses that arrived on Thursday were already cleared for release as early as Wednesday.
Dominguez said the vaccine purchases by private groups that are expected to arrive by mid-June would undergo the same swift customs clearance procedures.
“The process will be substantially the same and liquidation will be done on an after-the-fact basis,” the finance chief said. “Goods will pass through unhampered in order to ensure temperature stability,” he added. Both the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines have to be frozen, with the latter requiring ultracold temperature.
The government was able to fast-track the release of the duty- and tax-free vaccines because of the COVID-19 vaccine procurement law signed by Duterte last February.
“For Moderna and AstraZeneca, it would be the same [customs procedures] since the (Department of Health, or DOH) is the consignee,” Dominguez said. Section 5 of the COVID-19 Vaccination Program Act of 2021 mandated that “private entities may procure COVID-19 vaccines only in cooperation with the DOH and the NTF [National Task Force Against COVID-19] through a multiparty agreement, which shall include the DOH and the relevant supplier of COVID-19 vaccine.”
For Sinovac, however, Dominguez said the arrangement was a little different from what the law prescribed since the consignee was the Federation of Filipino-Chinese Chambers of Commerce and Industry Inc., which has signed a deal to buy half a million vaccine doses from China’s Sinovac.
On top of the P82.5-billion national government funding for the mass vaccination program obtained mainly from loans extended by multilateral lending institutions, such as the World Bank and Asian Development Bank, local governments and the private sector are also buying vaccines to increase the country’s supply and hit the target number of vaccinees.
Various government agencies, including the Anti-Red Tape Authority (Arta), have also signed a joint memorandum circular to assign a “green lane” for COVID-19 vaccine manufacturers that would import in bulk and repackage these in vials for local distribution.
The green lane was assigned ahead of any actual COVID-19 vaccine manufacturer in the Philippines. Under existing customs regulations, low-risk shipments pass through the green lane without documentary review or physical inspection. Moderate-risk shipments pass through the “yellow lane” and are subject to document review. High-risk shipments pass through the “red lane” and require both document review and physical inspection.
—With a report from Stephen Roy Canivel
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