MANILA - Sen. Francis Pangilinan on Thursday said Cabinet secretaries and government officials who may have been involved in the delayed procurement of COVID-19 vaccines from drugmaker Pfizer may face graft charges.
Sen. Panfilo Lacson earlier said that Health Secretary Francisco Duque III "dropped the ball" by failing to submit all documentary requirements on time for the procurement, pushing Pfizer to allocate about 10 million vaccines to Singapore instead of the Philippines early next year.
"If it can be proved that the refusal to act within a reasonable time was intended to favor another party, then Section 3f of the Anti-Graft Law applies," Pangilinan said in a statement.
The said provision classifies as a corrupt practice the act of "neglecting or refusing, after due demand or request, without sufficient justification, to act within a reasonable time on any matter pending before him for the purpose of obtaining, directly or indirectly, from any person interested in the matter some pecuniary or material benefit or advantage, or for the purpose of favoring his own interest or giving undue advantage in favor of or discriminating against any other interested party."
"Huwag naman sana na may issue ng 'kickvacc' (kickback) sa dropping of the ball ng Pfizer vaccine procurement," he said.
(I hope there will be no issue of 'kickvacc' in the dropping of the ball in the Pfizer vaccine procurement.)
Duque denied insinuations that negotiations with Pfizer are over, saying that talks with the pharmaceutical giant are still ongoing.
But while it is true that the Philippines is still in talks with Pfizer, the country has already "missed" the opportunity to acquire the vaccines at an earlier date, Lacson said.
The Senate earlier agreed to convene as a Committee of the Whole either next week or in January to look into the executive department's plan to procure, store, and distribute COVID-19 vaccines.
Earlier this year, the Senate called for the replacement of Duque as health chief over supposed "failure of leadership" in the handling of the COVID-19 crisis. President Rodrigo Duterte, however, decided to retain him.
The Senate also named Duque among officials who should be held liable for alleged corruption at state health insurer PhilHealth.