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House probe into gov't vaccination program set as Congress resumes session
This undated photo shows the Batasang Pambansa, the session hall of the Philippines' House of Representatives in Quezon City
AFP/Ted Aljibe

House probe into gov't vaccination program set as Congress resumes session

(Philstar.com) - January 17, 2021 - 5:40pm

MANILA, Philippines — Congressmen are set to resume session on Monday with its agenda set on pandemic-related matters and legislations deemed as priority by the Duterte administration.

The lower house has set its own probe on government's COVID-19 vaccination program that continues to face questions to date, ranging from issues on procurement to storage and distribution.

A similar investigation had been conducted by the Senate last week, with some members of the upper chamber seeking more time to question senior administration officials.

Congress had passed a P72.5 billion funding for the purchase of the jabs in the 2021 national budget, as government looks to inoculate 50 to 70 million in this year alone.

"Our goal is to make sure that every Filipino will have access to safe and effective vaccine, which is currently the best way for us to beat the virus and move forward," said House Speaker Lord Allan Velasco in a statement.

The House committee on health has invited Health Secretary Francisco Duque III and vaccine czar Carlito Galvez Jr. to the congressional inquiry set on Monday morning.

Velasco said the chamber looks to speed up the approval of 34 priority proposals of the administration, including on granting power to the president to halt increases in contribution of PhilHealth and Social Security System. 

President Rodrigo Duterte had ordered the state health insurer to halt its scheduled increase in premium contribution that had faced criticism with many still reeling from the pandemic and the agency hounded by corruption allegations.

PhilHealth has said that it would hold the implementation of the hike until Congress amends the Universal Health Care Law, which mandates the yearly increase, but said it would be forced to continue if no measure is passed.

Velasco's statement mentioned passing priority bills still at the committee level, which include restoring death penalty as capital punishment for plunder and drug-related crimes, as well as amending the 1987 Constitution's economic provisions.

The move to amend parts of the charter in the House has met criticism over the past week, after Rep. Alfredo Garbin, who heads the committee on constitutional amendments, insisted that the panel is already convened as a constituent assembly.

Many, including senators, have sought to dispute this, as the con-ass would need the participation of the rest of the lower chamber and of the Senate.

There had also been opposition to attempts in amending the constitution at a time when the country continues to grapple with the coronavirus pandemic, which has infected over 500,000 Filipinos to date and killed more than 9,800.

CONGRESS OF THE PHILIPPINES COVID-19 VACCINES HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES NOVEL CORONAVIRUS RODRIGO DUTERTE
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