Palace to Congress: Pass bills on vax indemnity, LGUs’ payment for purchase

The Palace on Friday renewed its call to lawmakers to fast-track the passage of proposed bills providing amends to those who would suffer from side effects of Covid-19 vaccines, and authorizing local government units to engage in an advance payment scheme for jab purchase.

Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque, in a televised briefing, tagged the two measures as “urgent” as the government eyes to roll out its large-scale Covid-19 immunization program this month.

“Those two are urgent administrative measures and we seek the cooperation and support of both chambers of Congress in enacting these urgent pieces of legislation into laws,” Roque said in an interview over state-run PTV-4.

Earlier in the day, Vaccine czar Carlito Galvez Jr. stressed the significance of enacting a law that would provide an indemnification fund to compensate Covid-19 vaccine recipients who would experience serious side effects, saying the measure would boost the confidence of vaccine makers.

He earlier revealed that there would be a one-week delay on the arrival of Covid-19 vaccines from Pfizer-BioNTech under COVAX facility — a global initiative providing resources for COVID-19 response —since the Philippines is yet to have an indemnification law in place.

Galvez said authorities are ironing out the indemnity agreement to assure the COVAX facility that the Philippine government would assume responsibility should vaccine recipients experience adverse effects.

“This is why we had an immediate convening with the House of Representatives and Senate because the indemnity package would give the manufacturer confidence before they enter a country,” he said in an interview over ABS-CBN channel.

Galvez also said he and Health Secretary Francisco Duque III would communicate to President Rodrigo Duterte to certify the bill as urgent “considering this is needed so it will open up our COVAX doses.”

Roque, however, said certifying the proposed measure as urgent does not guarantee quick passage into law by Congress.

“What’s more important is the President’s message to Congress that this is a priority of the administration,” Roque said.

A bill certified by the President as urgent can be approved by Congress on second and third reading on the same day.

At least two bills providing indemnification for Covid-19 vaccine takers who will experience severe side effects have been filed by Senators Nancy Binay and Bong Revilla Jr. in the upper chamber.

Meanwhile, Roque also emphasized the importance of granting LGUs the authority to make advance payments to Covid-19 vaccine manufacturers, which could only be done by exempting them from the procurement requirements under the law.

Local executives have previously expressed concern that they cannot immediately buy the Covid-19 vaccines since Republic Act 9184 or the Government Procurement Reform Act bars them from disbursing payment pending delivery of goods.

Speaker Lord Allan Velasco, in response to concerns, filed a measure authorizing LGUs to buy coronavirus vaccines directly from manufacturers without public bidding.

Roque, on the other hand, assured the public that the national government has enough budget to buy Covid-19 vaccines for Filipinos.

“Whether or not the LGUs will purchase on their own, the national government is prepared to purchase vaccines for all Filipinos,” Roque said.

The government has earmarked P82 billion for Covid-19 vaccine procurement, sourced from the Asian Development Bank, World Bank, and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank.

The government is aiming to secure a total of 148 million vaccine doses to inoculate at least 70 million people this year.

The neighboring countries of the Philippines in Southeast Asia, such as Singapore, Indonesia, and Myanmar, have started to immunize its people against the coronavirus.

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