MANILA (UPDATE) — Sen. Panfilo Lacson on Wednesday said a Cabinet secretary "dropped the ball" in the Philippines' COVID-19 vaccine deal with pharmaceutical giant Pfizer, leaving the country behind other regional peers in terms of acquiring vials from the said brand.
In a statement, Lacson said Health Secretary Francisco Duque III "failed to work on the necessary documentary requirements" needed for the Confidentiality Disclosure Agreement with Pfizer.
"The country representative of Pfizer was even following up on the submission of such documentary requirement," Lacson said.
Earlier in the day, Duque belied insinuations that the Philippines is no longer in talks with Pfizer about the procurement of COVID-19 vaccines.
"First of all, there is no such thing as dropping the ball," the Health chief said.
"The negotiations are ongoing... Tuloy-tuloy lang po kami sa mga (We are just continuously going through) reviews nung mga conditionalities and provisions," he said.
The senator also said more Filipinos could have been saved if the Pfizer vaccine was secured earlier, which was supposed to arrive in the country by January.
"The more important question is, how many lives would be saved between January and when (if at all) the vaccines may be made available again to Filipinos," he pointed out.
The Pfizer vaccine negotiated by Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. and Ambassador Babe Romualdez "is a renewed initiative after they missed the bus the first time," he said.
During a Commission on Appointments (CA) hearing Wednesday, Lacson asked Locsin "who dropped the ball" - an idiomatic expression which refers to the mishandling of matters - in the Philippines' talks of acquiring COVID-19 vaccines from Pfizer.
"We missed the opportunity to purchase it as early as January next year. He wasted the efforts of Sec. Locsin and Romualdez in that regard," Lacson told reporters in a text massage without naming a particular Cabinet member.
"You can figure out who is the captain ball I am referring to, who keeps dropping the ball but manages to stay in the game because the coach refuses to replace him," the senator said.
In a tweet, Lacson urged Locsin not to "pass the ball" to the unnamed official who keeps dropping it.
"I wish you and Babes good luck in your next effort to intercept the ball," Lacson said.
"Next time, don’t pass it to that doggone ‘sanamagan’ teammate of yours. He keeps dropping the ball. Our people need those vaccines," he said.
Duque remains at the helm of the Philippines' fight against COVID-19, while retired Gen. Carlito Galvez Jr. was appointed as the government's "vaccine czar."
Earlier this year, several senators signed a resolution urging Duque to resign as Health Secretary, citing his failure to immediately issue a directly to stop travelers from China to enter the Philippines after COVID-19 broke out in Wuhan late last year.
Lawmakers have also slammed Duque over his failure to solve corruption issue in the Philippine Health Insurance Corp (PhilHealth).
President Rodrigo Duterte did not heed the Senate's call and said that Duque continues to enjoy his trust and confidence.