MANILA - Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri on Wednesday said a portion of funding under the Bayanihan to Recover as One Act (Bayanihan 2) may be earmarked for the procurement of COVID-19 vaccines.
Of the P140 billion authorized under the Bayanihan 2, some P3 billion to P5 billion pesos may be used to purchase COVID-19 vaccines by the last quarter of 2020, Zubiri said in an online press conference.
"We will set aside funds for the purchase of vaccines para hindi na tayo maghihintay ng 2021 (so we won't have to wait until 2021 to have funds)," he said.
"We're going to have the budget of other industries that need help... If hindi kukunin sa iba, papayag naman siguro si Sec Sonny Dominguez kung padadagdag tayo ng P3 billion to P5 billion para sa vaccine," he said.
(If it will be sourced from elsewhere, [Finance Secretary] Sonny Dominguez might agree if we ask for additional P3 billion to P5 billion for the vaccine.)
Under the original Bayanihan 2 proposal, the P140 billion will be disbursed for the following programs:
- Procurement of COVID-19 testing, extraction kits and other supplies for the control of diseases - P10 billion
- Cash-for-work programs for displaced workers - P15 billion
- Unemployment or involuntary separation assistance for displaced workers - P17 billion
- Capital infusion for low-interest loans for micro, small and medium enterprises - P50 billion
- "Plant-plant-plant" program, cash subsidies and interest-free loans for agriculture - P17 billion
- Cash subsidies for transport sector workers - P17 billion
- Cash subsidies for tourism sector workers - P10 billion
The education sector will also receive assistance for scholarships and training programs during the pandemic.
If the vaccine fund is not included in the Bayanihan 2, the government may have to wait for the approval of the 2021 budget before it could fund acquisition of the COVID-19 cure.
"Ang ayaw natin mangyari ay mahuli tayo sa pagbili ng vaccines, buong mundo ang mamimili nito, baka mahuli tayo," Zubiri said.
(We don't want to be last in procuring vaccines, the whole world will be acquiring this, we might get left behind.)
Congress is expected to begin bicameral discussions on the Bayanihan 2 next week. The Senate hopes to ratify the measure on August 19, Zubiri said.
Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon said the opposition would support the purchase of vaccines, provided that these are "duly-tested and accepted in the market."
"It is essential for the health of our people... [but] it should be based on medical conclusions rather than a politician's view," Drilon said.
Zubiri urged the Food and Drug Administration to ensure that the Philippines would only procure COVID-19 vaccines from "reputable sources" that have been "tested thoroughly."
"We don't want to have another Dengvaxia scandal on our hands," Zubiri said, referring to the anti-dengue vaccine that allegedly caused deaths when administered to children who had never contracted the mosquito-borne disease.
"Mag-ingat muna tayo (Let's be careful). Let's continue with the testing. Let's follow science bago tayo mag-hook, line, and sinker (before we take it hook, line, and sinker)," he said.
Representatives from the Department of Science and Technology are set to meet the makers of Sputnik V to discuss the COVID-19 vaccine produced by Russian government-operated Gamaleya Research Institute.