Duterte: No corruption in Sinovac supply deal
Addressing the nation last night, Duterte said the price of the Sinovac shot, called CoronaVac, would be made public once it is finalized after he and Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez have reviewed the deal.
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Duterte: No corruption in Sinovac supply deal

Alexis Romero, Paolo Romero (The Philippine Star) - January 19, 2021 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — As senators expressed suspicion about an attempt to overprice vaccines the government is procuring from China, President Duterte defended the deal yesterday, stressing that everything is aboveboard.

Addressing the nation last night, Duterte said the price of the Sinovac shot, called CoronaVac, would be made public once it is finalized after he and Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez have reviewed the deal.

Duterte said this hours after Sen. Panfilo Lacson, in a privilege speech, said there could have been an attempt to overprice the Chinese vaccines, had it not been for public criticisms and the inquiry of the Senate into the Duterte administration’s COVID vaccination program.

During the Senate probe last week, vaccine czar Carlito Galvez Jr. said the deal with Sinovac was still not final and could be scrapped.

Apparently referring to this, Duterte told Galvez last night to follow his “game plan… with or without the investigation, proceed with what we intend to do. Never mind the investigation.”

In a privilege speech, Lacson said Indonesia and Thailand were able to acquire CoronaVac manufactured by Beijing-based Sinovac Biotech at P683.30 and P240, respectively, per dose in their peso equivalent.

This is lower than the P1,814.75 per injection of the same serum or P3,629 for two doses based on the price provided by the Department of Finance to the Senate committee on finance last year.

“Easily, I am reminded of an old story of how corruption is committed in three Southeast Asian countries – under the table; on the table; including the table,” the senator said.

He said that based on the testimonies of Health Secretary Francisco Duque III and Galvez, the government is negotiating with Sinovac for the procurement of 25 million doses of CoronaVac.

Duterte said last night that the price of CoronaVac was still under negotiation and covered by a confidentiality agreement.

Senate President Vicente Sotto III said the chamber is considering an executive session with Galvez to discuss Lacson’s speech.

Duterte said he had personally requested Chinese President Xi Jinping last year to provide vaccines to the Philippines since the country does not produce its own vaccines. Xi committed to provide the vaccines, but after the Chinese have received their shots.

The 500,000 doses that Beijing has promised to donate for free to the Philippines will be arriving and will soon be administered to health frontliners, but no one will be forced to accept the Sinovac shot, Duterte said.

Citing the death of 29 elderly recipients of the Pfizer vaccine in Norway, Duterte said senators, private hospitals and anyone else with the money are free to procure the Pfizer shots or any vaccine of their choice.

All procurements, however, must be cleared with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Duque, Duterte said.

Sinovac will receive the payment for the vaccine directly from lender banks, he added.

Lacson pointed out that had the Senate not conducted the inquiry into the pricing and efficacy controversy of Sinovac vaccine, and assuming the government pushed through with procuring CoronaVac at P3,629 for two shots, the price difference of 25 million doses would easily fetch $350 million or P16.8 billion.

“That being said, I am not prepared to accuse anyone in particular of corruption. Rather, it defies logic not to suspect at least an attempt to overprice the vaccine. Again, when there is an attempt at overpricing, isn’t it also logical to think somebody will profit from this with so much cash,” he asked.

He credited Sen. Francis Pangilinan for filing the resolution that led to the convening of the Senate committee of the whole as well as the collective effort of netizens to demand transparency from the government that helped in protecting the public coffers and saving the people billions of pesos in the mass vaccination program.

It also did not help that government officials, particularly those in Malacañang and the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF), were less than forthcoming to the committee or even to the public, particularly on the pricing of CoronaVac.

“I could not understand for the life of me why we are being kept in the dark when it comes to our price negotiations with Sinovac, while our neighboring countries could not be more transparent about it,” he said.

Senate President Vicente Sotto III, who said a decision will still have to be made on the request of Galvez to hold an executive session, set the next hearing of the specially convened panel on Friday as senators said more questions were raised than answered in the two previous hearings.

Malacañang, as it continued to parry criticisms against its decision to buy shots from the Chinese drug maker, vowed to disclose the price of COVID-19 vaccines purchased from Sinovac once a contract is signed.

Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said the price of the Sinovac vaccines cannot be revealed for now because a sale contract has yet to be signed.

“What we signed is a term sheet which is an agreement to supply, and an agreement to supply which is a valid contract by itself and we cannot say yet how much,” Roque said at a press briefing.

“But don’t worry, once it is delivered and once the contract is signed, we have the obligation to tell you how much. For now it’s more or less P650 (per dose) but it won’t exceed P700 (per dose),” he added.

Sinovac Biotech general manager Helen Yang said yesterday that the Philippines will get its COVID-19 vaccines at a “very good” price even as she assured the public of its safety and efficacy.

“In terms of pricing, definitely we are not the highest expensive ones because I think it is the mission (of) Sinovac to provide the vaccine at an affordable price,” Yang said in an interview with CNN Philippines.

“For the Philippines, we (are) committed to provide a favorable price but unfortunately, I’m not in the position to discuss this confidential information at this moment. But I will be assuring you that this is a very good price that we provided to the Philippines,” she added.

Galvez said the Philippine government did not drop the price of Sinovac vaccines after a Senate hearing last week, noting that the term sheet for the price of Sinovac was already finished before the Senate conducted its hearing.

“It is claiming too much credit. It’s not like that. Even before the Senate hearing, that is the price already. Sec. Roque and I said that it will not be more than P700,” Galvez said in reaction to a tweet by Lacson that if the price was indeed dropped from P1,847, then “the Senate has probably done our share to save our people billions of pesos in the country’s vaccination program.”

“To set the record straight, before the Senate hearing, the term is already done. As we are saying, the price will be between Indian price and Indonesian price because that is realistic,” Galvez said. – Paolo Romero, Alexis Romero, Edith Regalado, Neil Jayson Servallos, Sheila Crisostomo, Delon Porcalla, Helen Flores, Jose Rodel Clapano, Evelyn Macairan, Cecille Suerte Felipe, MichelleZoleta

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