MANILA — Malacañang on Monday asked the Nayong Pilipino Foundation to give way to the construction of a mega COVID-19 vaccination facility, despite concerns that it would cut down about 500 trees.
President Rodrigo Duterte has supervision of Nayong Pilipino, which is a government-owned and controlled corporation, said his spokesman Harry Roque.
"Sana naman ang mga desisyon nila ay huwag kokontra doon sa napakahalagang misyong pangalagaan ang buhay ng ating mga kababayan," he said in a press briefing.
"Iyong pagtatayo po ng mega vaccination facility diyan sa Nayong Pilipino, iyan po ay pursuant to inherent police powers ng ating Presidente, at iyan naman po ay para itaguyod ang karapatan ng kalusugan ng lahat."
(I hope their decision will not oppose the very important mission to protect the lives of our compatriots. The construction of the mega vaccination facility there at Nayong Pilipino is pursuant to inherent police powers of our President, and that will uphold the health of everyone.)
LEGAL, ENVIRONMENTAL CONCERNS
The NPF said the proposed site of the vaccination hub "is not a vacant lot but has a thriving urban forest that hosts a variety of urban wildlife and is the last remaining grassland in the reclaimed area of Parañaque."
"The site is a bird flyway network and is close to the Las Piñas-Parañaque Critical Habitat and Ecotourism Area or protected wetlands under the Ramsar Convention, to which the Philippines is a signatory," the NPF said on its website.
The foundation warned that the cutting of almost 500 trees and other site works would "kill the existing ecosystem."
"Once lost, it could take decades to recover this ecosystem. A mega-vaccination facility that will destroy this ecosystem would be a disaster and a disservice to the residents of Metro Manila who need more green and open spaces," reads the statement.
Nayong Pilipino, a former tourist site, hosts a quarantine facility for patients with COVID-19, said the NPF.
"A mega-vaccination center close onsite, next to the quarantine facility may pose a health risk on both healthy individuals securing their vaccines. A careful study of the design and ventilation systems for both are necessary to ensure there is no cross-contamination to take place," it said.
Quoting health officials, the NPF said the private firm would manage the planned vaccination site. It said this "about the propriety of allowing a private foundation to use government property."
"Legal issues are being studied to ensure full compliance with all laws, rules, and regulations," the NPF said.
'INAPPROPRIATE' TO EQUATE LIVES WITH TREES
COVID-19 vaccine "czar" Carlito Galvez Jr said work on the facility "should have commenced weeks ago, but so far, not a single brick or panel has been laid." The NPF board of trustees, he said, has yet to sign a memorandum of agreement with government.
"We believe it is inappropriate for the NPF to equate the fate of 500 Ipil-Ipil trees with the lives of hundreds of thousands if not millions of Filipino. Moreover, the proposed site of the facility is a reclaimed piece of land and not a protected forest or a marine sanctuary," he said in a statement.
The mega vaccination center at the Nayong Pilipino will accelerate the vaccination drive and inoculate around 10,000 individuals daily, said Galvez, who is also chief implementer of the National Task Force Against COVID-19.
"With the government’s target of vaccinating 500,000 persons per day in the NCR and 200,000 people daily throughout other parts of the country, this vaccination center brings us closer to our goal of inoculating at least 50 million Filipinos and achieving herd immunity within this year," he said.
Galvez said the environment issue raised by the NPF "has been carefully considered", and the government tapped urban planner Architect Felino Palafox for the project.
"We would like to emphasize that the government deeply cares for the environment. But as the pandemic wreaks havoc on the lives of our people and our economy, we have to make the choice. 'Green and open spaces' will be useless if there will be no one to visit them," he said.
Billionaire Enrique Razon Jr.'s International Container Terminal Services Inc (ICTSI) "offered to build the facility at no cost to the national government," said Galvez.
"We therefore call on the NPF to heed our call and sign the MOA as soon as possible. We can no longer afford to waste time. The future of our people and nation depends on it," he said.
Among the hardest hit by the COVID-19 crisis in Asia, the Philippines hopes to vaccinate up to 70 million or about two-thirds of its 108 million people this year.