Philippines won’t pay vaccine reservation fee – Duterte

Christina Mendez - The Philippine Star
Philippines wonât pay vaccine reservation fee â Duterte
President Duterte presides over a meeting with the Inter-Agency Task Force on the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases at Malacañang the other night. Joining him are (from left) national task force on the COVID response chief implementer Carlito Galvez, Sen. Bong Go, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, presidential spokesman Harry Roque and Health Secretary Francisco Duque III.
STAR / File

MANILA, Philippines — President Duterte expressed his concern on Monday about the reported pre-requisite – demanded by some pharmaceutical firms – of advance payment from countries wanting priority access once a vaccine against COVID-19 is developed in the next few months.

It is for this reason that the Chief Executive said he would give preference to China and Russia in the Philippines’ procurement of a COVID vaccine.

Duterte insinuated that with the need for advance payment, the chances are slim to get guaranteed access for countries like the Philippines. “We will give preference to Russia and China provided that their vaccine is as good as any other in the market. It could be as good as ‘yung mga kompanyang sinabi nila, hindi ko sasabihin baka naman magpa-pa-advertise sila (the companies they are mentioning. I won’t mention them because they might be advertised),” he said. 
Lashing out at western economies, Duterte said these firms are only concerned about profit while they want countries like the Philippines to “fund” their research by asking “advance payments.”

“That’s one thing wrong about the western countries… it’s all profit, profit, profit. There’s a pandemic and you say that, ‘OK we have the… we have something for sale or something to sell to you’,” he said, “And you will be happy with what you will hear, only to collapse when the next sentence is said ‘but you need to pay in advance before we can send them to you.’”

“Hindi pa nga eh. Eh nagkamali ako wala pa (It’s not here yet. I made a mistake and it’s not here). Now they are asking for a reservation fee. Wala pa sila (They don’t have it yet). Sabi nila ‘pag naimbento na ito o natapos na namin ‘yung trials (They say, when they make it or they’re done with the trials)… but anyway it’s really… they are really on the advanced stage of the clinical trials,” Duterte said.

“There is nothing with finality, and you want us to make a reservation by depositing money, you must be crazy. Why will I abide with that style?” he said, invoking the procurement law of the Philippines which bars government agencies from buying something before they are made commercially available.

“It’s a very exacting law and you must always reckon with, you know, prosecution and going to jail. At bakit ka naman (And why would you)...? Bakit ka naman magbayad na wala diyan (Why would you pay for something that’s not there)?” Duterte added.

He showed his bias anew for China and Russia, which do not seem to be demanding any pre-funding requirements.

“Now, it’s going to be like this, if the vaccine of Russia and China are equally good and effective, just like any other vaccine invented by any country, I will buy first. But then you know, I hope that the Chinese and Russian government, that when we buy, we have to go into a bidding. So the Russian and the pharmaceutical companies of China can very well join us,” he said.

Presidential spokesman Harry Roque Jr. could not identify the firms or countries which the Chief Executive was talking about.

Pressed if the President was referring to the Philippines’ participation at the Gavi COVID-19 Vaccine Facility, Roque said the government would still be participating in the alliance which is backed by the World Health Organization.

The Philippines is setting aside about P1.5-billion in advance payment to comply with the requirements of COVAX to enable the country to have guaranteed access to the vaccine once available.

COVAX is the international effort that strives to work with vaccine manufacturers in giving countries equitable access to safe, effective, licensed and approved vaccines.

No room for complacency

Duterte reiterated that the Filipino people cannot let their guard down while there is still no vaccine commercially available to us.

“We cannot be complacent. I said by December there will be some, I think, trials,” he said.

Since he ordered a lockdown in March this year, Duterte has been upfront about the country’s dwindling financial resources, but his economic managers have been harping that the Philippines’ good economic condition prior to the crisis would allow it to surpass the current challenges.

On Monday, Duterte described the Philippines as already “drifting in a seashore” when the pandemic reached the country.

“We are (drifting) aimlessly… like a ship which lost its steam… So we were drifting in a seashore then the storm came. No other country helped us,” he said.

He then recognized how China and Russia have reached out to help the country in handling the COVID-19 crisis. “But the only country that offered to help initially and said, ‘Do not worry when we invent one, we’d give you’ was Russia then China. Then China, the one good thing about China is you do not have to beg, you do not have to plead. Like in other countries, they want cash advance before they would deliver the vaccine,” he said.

If the other countries would ask for advance payments, Duterte said, then the nation will be dying in vain.  “Eh kung ganun, patay tayong lahat (If that’s the case, we will all die). Every Filipino will die, I can assure you,” he said.

“Why? If we do not provide cash advance, then we will have no vaccine. If that is so, we’d rather kiss each other to make it easier for us. That’s I said one wrong with… one thing wrong with the… western companies,” he said.

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