Palace hits Drilon, Robredo camp over criticism on vaccine budget

Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque (File photo)

MANILA – Malacañang on Monday snapped back at Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon and the camp of Vice President Leni Robredo for claiming the government did not prioritize the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) vaccine in the proposed 2021 national budget.

Last Friday, Drilon questioned why only PHP2.5 billion has guaranteed funding for the purchase of Covid-19 vaccines next year when Congress authorized the executive branch to disburse PHP72.5 billion for the purchase of vaccines in the 2021 budget.

Robredo’s spokesperson Barry Gutierrez echoed Drilon’s statement, alleging that the administration has no sense of urgency when it came to the country’s vaccination plan.

In a Palace press briefing, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque asked the two Liberal Party members to refrain from politicking, saying elections are still too far away.

He also said the remaining PHP70 billion needed for Covid-19 vaccines could easily be sourced from loans or excess non-tax revenue collections.

“Senator Drilon, Vice President, malayo pa po ang eleksyon, tigilan ang pulitika. Paulit-ulit na po sinabi natin iyan ‘no na tayo po ay makakautang na sa multi-lateral sources, sa bilateral sources para po sa PHP72.5-billion na kakailanganin (elections are too far away, stop politicking. We have repeatedly said that we will be able to loan from multi-lateral sources, bilateral sources for the needed PHP72.5 billion),” he said.

Roque said the funds for Covid-19 vaccines were included in the 2021 budget to assure funding.

“Kaya po inilalagay sa budget iyan, maski utangin hindi po pupuwedeng gastusin (That’s why it was included in the budget, even if we borrow, it cannot be spent) and I’m sure Senator Drilon knows about this already having been a veteran lawmaker, the same thing goes for the Vice President. They should know how the budget works. Kinakailangan nasa budget otherwise hindi magagastos maski ang panggagalingan ay uutangin (it needs to be in the budget otherwise we won’t be able to spend it even if it comes from loans),” he said.

Vaccine czar Carlito Galvez Jr., for his part, reiterated that the government can enter into a multilateral arrangement with the Asian Development Bank (ADB) to facilitate the country’s vaccine procurement.

“At ang napag-agree-han po namin para maging transparent at talagang sure tayo na walang corruption at saka talagang very diligent ang gagawin natin, ang ating magiging fund manager at saka fund procurement agent will be ADB (We have agreed to make it transparent and make sure that there’s no corruption and we will do it in a diligent way and our fund manager and fund procurement agent will be ADB),” he said.

Galvez said the government could not wait until the 2021 budget is passed to make advance payments to vaccine suppliers due this December and January 2021.

“Kung 2021 po iyon gagamitin po natin na budget na inilaan po na (If we use the 2021 budget allotted for the) PHP72 billion, we will be on the tailing end of the supply chain. So, ang gagamitin po natin sa ating procurement ng vaccine para malaman po ng publiko ay iyon USD1-billion na ino-allocate po ni Secretary (Carlos) Dominguez na noon pang July pa po siya binigyan ng instruction ng ating mahal na Presidente (what we will use for the procurement if the vaccine is the USD1 billion allocated by Secretary Dominguez who was instructed by the President last July) to produce the money for the vaccine,” he added.

Last week, Roque said the Philippines will be getting its supply of Covid-19 vaccines starting next year from three manufacturers — Sinovac Biotech, Oxford-AstraZeneca, and Pfizer-BioNTech.

He said the country remains consistent that only “safe” and “effective” vaccines could secure approval from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). (PNA)

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