MANILA (UPDATE) - Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon on Monday said the arrival of COVID-19 vaccines in the country was delayed because of mismanagement and not solely because of the lack of an indemnity law.
The Philippines recently signed an indemnification agreement with COVAX Facility, a global initiative that aims for equitable access to coronavirus shots. The vaccines were earlier expected to arrive in the country by mid-February but was pushed back due to the processing of required documents.
"Just like the way the COVID-19 pandemic was handled, there’s a mismanagement in the handling of the supply agreements," Drilon told ANC's Headstart.
"Of course, certain aspects cannot be blamed on the government - for example, the sudden demand for an indemnity agreement as a result of the Dengvaxia cases," he noted.
Earlier this month, warrants of arrest were issued against 3 executives of drugmaker Sanofi Pasteur following lawsuits over its Dengvaxia vaccine that allegedly caused severe dengue symptoms in some recipients. The Department of Health, however, denied that the controversy was the reason for the indemnity agreement sought by manufacturers.
Drilon said another reason for the delay is the Philippines' "refusal to initially make an advance payment" to vaccine manufacturers. He said under the law, the country can actually pre-pay more than 15 percent "in emergency situations," such as the pandemic.
"We have to queue, and we are last to queue because of our failure to make the advance payments early enough. These indemnity agreements are not the cause of these delays because if it is the cause, then we should have been informed as early as July. The fact that it was only foisted on us last week is an indication that the supply agreement is not the cause of the delay," he said.
Drilon said it's "unfair" to blame Congress for the lack of an indemnification law when agreements have been signed without such law.
"So totally, it is the mismanagement of this entire process that caused the delay in our procurement," he said.
After President Rodrigo Duterte certified these as urgent, the Senate and the House of Representatives are expected to pass a bill that would provide an indemnification fund for people who might suffer adverse side effects of COVID-19 vaccines and one that would authorize local governments to directly buy the shots from manufacturers.
Malacañang has a letter from COVAX Facility saying the vaccines were supposed to arrive in mid-February, said Duterte's spokesman Harry Roque.
However, vaccine makers wanted protection from lawsuit, he said.
"We obviously disagree [with Sen. Drilon]," Roque told reporters in an online briefing.
"They're entitled to say what they want. Pero gaya ng aking sinabi, sandali lang po ang kaligayahan ng ating mga kritiko dahil tuloy na po ang ating vaccination program. Enjoy it while it lasts for a very short while."
(But as I've said, the joy of our critics will be short-lived because our vaccination program will push through.)
The government hopes to receive its first 600,000 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine from Beijing-based biopharmaceutical company Sinovac this week, Roque said.
- with report from Jamaine Punzalan, ABS-CBN News