MANILA (UPDATE 2) - Three to 5 years to roll out the vaccine against COVID-19 is "too long" and will be "too late" for the Philippine economy to recover, Sen. Ralph Recto said on Tuesday as the Senate prepares to press the executive branch for its inoculation plan.
Vaccine czar Sec. Carlito Galvez Jr. said last month vaccinating 60 to 70 million Filipinos will be done over a "3 to 5-year period."
Malacañang also revealed the vaccine distribution will be done with a geographical and sectoral strategy, with priority given to COVID-19 hotspots, such as Metro Manila, Davao City and Bacolod City.
Government needs to address first the pandemic to bring back consumer and businesses' confidence to revive the economy, Recto said.
"We heard them also say 3-5 years. That’s too long. I don’t think it should take 5 years. I think our plan should be 2 years for the whole country. It will be hard to survive 3 to 5 years, that’s too long," he told ANC's Headstart.
"Saying that we will be able to vaccinate on 3-5 years does not provide confidence. Maraming missed opportunities, sayang. If we can show the public, ‘tingnan niyo 'yung healthcare workers natin binabayaran natin nang tama'...Say that 'we will vaccinate all of you, walang pilitan,' that will provide confidence."
(There are many missed opportunities. If we can show the public, 'Our healthcare workers are being paid correctly'...Say that 'we will vaccinate all of you, we won't force you,' that will provide confidence.)
If government inoculates its citizens within 2 years, the Philippines will recover "only the loss of P1.950 billion in the second half of 2022," he added.
"S'yempre takot ang consumer, worker, businessman to invest. In this scenario only government can make the investment, that’s why I’m saying the budget should be bigger and there’s a need to extend Bayanihan 2, the GAA (General Appropriations Act of 2020), maybe even a Bayanihan 3," he said.
(Of course consumers, workers, and businessmen are scared to invest.)
Recto said the Senate may resume session during the holidays to "discuss with the executive the game plan."
"(We want them to) tell Congress so we can approve the money necessary for it and we can help them in explaining that to the public," he said.
"We now are watching globally the vaccine rollout... Clearly, there is light at the end of the tunnel but that tunnel is still long so you still have to practice social distancing, handwashing, so on and so forth."
Recto said among the questions lawmakers will want to tackle are: "Which vaccines are we purchasing? Why are we purchasing them? What will be the quantity? When will be the delivery? What will be the manner of distributing this nationwide?"
The Philippines can also buy vaccines from other countries that ordered in excess of their population to address the depleting supply of the inoculation, the senator added.
"There are many countries who ordered vaccines more than their population, we can talk to them, pay them back."
In the proposed budget submitted by Congress to President Rodrigo Duterte, some P2.5 billion is earmarked for the vaccination program under the Department of Health's budget. Another P70 billion in standby funds will be added from either approved loans or once the government exceeds its non-tax revenues targets. The stimulus plan Bayanihan 2 puts another P10 billion to the vaccine budget.
Recto is seeking a third Bayanihan Act to further stimulate the economy and support the vaccination plan to possibly include the whole Philippine population.
"Provide for 100 percent of the population without even mandating it, but it’s available. Kung gusto nila, pwede silang magpabakuna. That’s how it should work. Hindi yung 60 percent lang, 70 percent lang. Nagtitipid tayo," he said.
(Provide for 100 percent of the population without even mandating it, but it's available. If they want, they can get themselves vaccinated. That's how it should work. Not just inoculating 60 percent, 70 percent. We're being too thrifty.)
"Let’s get the best vaccine available. The most effective, the safest. Let’s not say na 'Ito mas mura 'to. Mababa effectiveness nito, safety nito pero mas mura 'to. Ito ang kunin natin.’ Let’s give the people the best available in the market," he added.
(Let's get the best vaccine available. The most effective, the safest. Let's not say, 'This is cheaper. It's less effective, less safe, but it's cheaper. Let's get this.' Let's give the people the best available in the market.)
The vaccines would be a small price to pay if it would help stimulate the economy, which shrunk this year, said Recto.