Philippines eyes $300 million loan for COVID-19 vaccine
Quoting Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III on the loan, Duterte said the Philippines could already afford to buy the vaccines.
AFP/Yaksin Akgul

Philippines eyes $300 million loan for COVID-19 vaccine

Christina Mendez (The Philippine Star) - November 12, 2020 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — The government is borrowing $300 million to procure vaccines for COVID-19, President Duterte said Monday night, as he regarded the development of the vaccine as a “hope for mankind.”

Quoting Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III on the loan, Duterte said the Philippines could already afford to buy the vaccines.

During his weekly address to the nation, Duterte also acknowledged the advantage of rich nations, which would prioritize securing the vaccines for their citizens.

The President’s outlook shifted from the earlier optimism pinned on China and possibly Russia, which he said would not leave the Philippines behind in terms of access to the vaccines once they have developed their own.

“Nandito na ang bakuna (The vaccine is here), so it’s being sold… I don’t know, it would be not good to assume that there’s a black market for that. But Sonny says that he can borrow money of 300 million plus… US dollars, 300 million dollars,” Duterte said in his taped address, referring to Dominguez.

“That’s a big amount. We can buy (the vaccines), but I think it would do as well to also realize that they will prioritize their own people,” he added, referring to the United States and China.

Duterte had publicly said he would not think twice about selling government properties or getting loans to be able to secure vaccines for Filipinos.

While the vaccines in the US and China remain in the development stage, Duterte expressed belief that these two countries already have access to the vaccines.

“China or Pfizer of America, they already have it, so hindi na nakakatakot talaga ang COVID (COVID is no longer scary). But … pagka ngayon magbili ka, mahal (if you buy now, it’s expensive),” he said.

‘Hope for mankind’

With the impending availability of COVID-19 vaccines, there is “now hope for mankind,” according to the President, adding that succeeding generations can seek refuge from the “COVID storm.”

“So the vaccine is near. There is a hope for mankind. Pero ako, wala pang bakuna dito, hindi na ako takot (But I am no longer scared even if there is still no vaccine here). Maybe, maybe not, depende sa suwerte mo sa buhay (it depends on one’s luck in life). But for the succeeding generations, mga anak ko, mga apo ko (my children, my grandchildren), I am quite confident with the thought that they have a refuge where they can take shelter,” he said.

National Task Force against COVID-19 and vaccine czar Carlito Galvez said the government is planning to give two doses of vaccines within 21 days to as many Filipinos that can be covered for free.

Duterte reiterated the government’s plans to provide vaccines to marginalized Filipinos and frontline professionals.

“As I have promised, ang gastos ng gobyerno itong bakuna para sa lahat ng Pilipino (the government will spend for the vaccines for all Filipinos). Kaya nga uumpisahan natin sa mga mahihirap, pataas (That’s why we will start from the impoverished, going up)... Let’s start with the A, B, C, D, E. The lowest sa (in) E, iyong talagang mahirap na wala (those who really have nothing), then paakyat tayo dahan-dahan sa (we will go up little by little to) D,” he said.

The President said he thinks those in the A, B and C brackets would be able to pay for vaccines on their own, probably from private companies.

“Then, iyong C, medyo – hindi na, sobra na iyong 300 million ni Secretary Dominguez. Hindi na tayo maggastos diyan kasi may mga pera na iyan (We won’t cover them anymore because these people have money). A, B crowd, iyan iyong mga milyonaryo (they are the millionaires). Iyong nasa (Those in) C, there are in a bracket which we think are pretty good for them to buy the medicines for themselves,” he said.

Duterte lamented, however, that the US and China have reserved the first batch of vaccines for their own people.

Apart from the US and China, Duterte said countries in Europe also want to prioritize their own people.

“So you can expect that within the few months until next year, all of those vaccines produced will be used for the Americans,” he said. “Same story with the European countries, which all successfully developed the vaccine, including China; in China, they have Sinovac and Sinopharm. I think that they have already. Again, we have to keep in mind that they have a population to worry (about).”

The Philippines, according to the Chief Executive, has been preparing for the procurement through government-to-government transactions.

Adherence to health protocols

Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez reported on the country’s strides after the gradual reopening of the economy, coupled with strict observation of health standards.

“It means that it is OK that we reopen as long as the minimum health protocols are followed to the letter. The community quarantine will not be the determinant to bring down the cases. It will be the adherence to the minimum health protocols,” Lopez said.

He emphasized that the government’s decision to gradually allow various sectors to resume operations also provided the window for Filipinos to get back to work.

“So considering all sectors from agriculture, ever since hindi po isinara ang (we did not close) agriculture, kaya right now, they are posting positive growth of about 1.2 percent. So that’s good for the GDP,” he said, referring to the country’s gross domestic product.

“In the spirit of reopening of the economy and we in the Cabinet had adopted a principle – from risk aversion or avoidance to risk management, we really had to open up more sectors so that many are able to return to work,” he added.

‘Gov’t has enough funds’

Galvez yesterday assured the public that the government has enough funds to pay for the procurement of COVID-19 vaccines.

At a virtual briefing yesterday, Galvez said the government has tapped the World Bank (WB), Asian Development Bank (ADB) and private firms in relation to the procurement of the vaccine.

“I believe we have the money. We have the modalities, which include the P10 billion allocated under the Bayanihan 2 (law) for testing and the vaccine,” he said at a virtual press briefing from Malacañang yesterday.

The Philippine government also has a standby fund as well as assurances from the ADB and WB for “self-sufficiency financing,” according to the vaccine czar.

“I have talked to World Bank (yesterday) morning and they are willing to have a multilateral engagement with us… I don’t see any problems with financing,” he said.

Apart from fighting COVID-19, Galvez said the WB is also keen on providing assistance to the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARRM).

“They are willing to coordinate with the ADB, and even third parties, to have a multilateral engagement with us. I don’t see any problem when it comes to financing,” he said.

He added that China has affirmed its commitment that the Philippines will be given access to the COVID-19 vaccines they are developing, and that the Chinese premier has committed that “the Philippines will be given priority of access.”

The government is also looking at striking a tripartite agreement with the private sector to buy the vaccines, according to Galvez.

He reiterated that health workers, essential workers, seniors and indigents are in the line of priorities of the government of the immunization program.

About 25 million vaccines are needed for the first batch for the priority sectors.

The Philippines eyes 10 million more for the government to attain the continuing immunization program in the next years to “fully diminish our fatalities” and “so that the economy would recover,” Galvez said.

The government is strengthening its ties and coordination with China, Russia, US, Japan, United Kingdom, Singapore and South Korea to be able to have access to the various vaccines developed by these countries, according to the vaccine czar.

“If the vaccine will be rolled out next year, we will also be able to get the supply,” he said. “’Pag roll out sa ibang (in other) countries, mag-roll out na rin sa atin (it will also be rolled out to us).”

For Galvez, the best case scenario is that the Philippines can get some vaccines by the second quarter next year and through the COVAX facility by July.

He noted that production is now being cornered by rich nations.

“I believe that the World Health Organization is on top of it and that they will give countries like us,” he said.

More participants

Meanwhile, more participants will be recruited for the clinical trials being done in the country for Avigan, Japan’s anti-flu drug that was seen to have potentials to treat COVID-19.

This was announced yesterday by Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire, who said investigators of the clinical trials wanted to increase the number of participants from the current 96 to 144.

“Investigators submitted amendments to their study protocols based on inclusion of hospitals’ COVID-19 patients with non-severe presentations with or without pneumonia,” Vergeire said.

The recruitment of participants is ongoing.

The project team also plans to include one or two additional trial sites in the provinces of Rizal and Cavite “where there is an increasing number of COVID-19 cases,” according to Vergeire.

Aside from this, the team is also planning to partner with quarantine facilities surrounding the four existing study sites “to facilitate the enrollment” of new participants.

The four existing trial sites are the Philippine General Hospital, Sta. Ana Hospital, Dr. Jose Rodriguez Memorial Hospital and Quirino Memorial Medical Center.

The Japanese government had provided Avigan tablets for the nine-month trial which had initially targeted 100 participants. – Sheila Crisostomo, Paolo Romero

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