MANILA - Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto on Wednesday pushed to increase the government's budget for the COVID-19 vaccine to P50 billion, saying officials did not include funding for the distribution of the drug.
Under the current 2021 budget proposal, lawmakers earmarked P8 billion for the purchase of vaccines, triple the executive department's initial P2.5 billion proposed fund.
"There is no money set aside for the distribution... and we have the opportunity to correct it," Recto said during budget debates in the Senate.
"Palagay (I think) ko the distribution will be more expensive than the actual vaccine itself," he said.
Another P20 billion should be allocated for the "delivery of the vaccine," while another P20 billion should be placed as an unprogrammed appropriations.
The executive branch can only spend funds marked as unprogrammed appropriations should the government exceed its revenue targets.
"We have P1.9 trillion in lost opportunity and here we are haggling with what? P50 billion?" Recto said.
"It's a matter of priority. We are reviewing the budget and if we don't do anything about it sino may kasalanan? Kongreso." he said.
"'Di bale nang mag-overestimate tayo kaysa we don't put anything," he said.
(It's better to overestimate than if we don't put anything at all.)
Lawmakers have been discussing additional funds for the storage and delivery of the COVID-19 vaccine, as the Pfizer-produced drug has to be kept at -70 degrees Celsius (-94 Fahrenheit) for long-term storage, while Moderna's version must stay at -20 degrees Celsius (-4 Fahrenheit) if kept for 60 days and 2-8 degrees for 30 days.
The Department of Health (DOH) earlier said its proposed budget for the purchase of COVID-19 vaccines already includes the cost of storing and transporting it.
"All of these are considered and all of these are being estimated for now. We already have submitted the required funds that we need for the procurement of the vaccine until its distribution storage and warehousing," Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said.
Marikina Rep. Stella Quimbo earlier said that the DOH's initial proposed P2.5-billion funding for COVID vaccines would only cover 3.9 million Filipinos, or around 20 percent of the target 20 million individuals.
Experts said at least 60 to 70 percent of the population needs to receive at least 2 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine "to break the chain of transmission" of the deadly virus.