Duterte tells Galvez, Duque to leave Senate ifâ¦
Although President Rodrigo Duterte had misgivings over the way Health Secretary Francisco Duque III and National Policy against COVID-19 chief implementer and vaccine czar Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr. are being pressed for answers at the Senate, presidential spokesman Harry Roque Jr. yesterday said the President has given them leeway in explaining the processes to the lawmakers.
The STAR/Joven Cagande

Duterte tells Galvez, Duque to leave Senate if…

Christina Mendez (The Philippine Star) - January 21, 2021 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — President Duterte has permitted two of his Cabinet secretaries to again attend the Senate inquiry tomorrow on the government’s vaccination program, provided they will be treated fairly and with respect during the public hearing, presidential spokesman Harry Roque Jr. said.

Although Duterte had misgivings over the way Health Secretary Francisco Duque III and National Policy against COVID-19 chief implementer and vaccine czar Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr. are being pressed for answers at the Senate, Roque yesterday said the President has given them leeway in explaining the processes to the lawmakers.

Galvez and Duque may also leave the Senate inquiry if senators’ demeanor would be “war-like,” as described by Roque.

“But in fairness to the President, his answer was no, go to the Senate, continue answering questions, continue the way in the manner that you have been answering, and if they become abusive to you verbally, just stand up and leave. And if they cite you in contempt, I will come and fetch you. So that’s the context,” the Palace spokesman said.

“So Secretary Galvez and Secretary Duque, if the Senate will have a hearing this Friday, will be there, but with instruction that if anyone becomes verbally abusive to them, they have the license to stand up and leave,” he added.

Roque lamented that the long hours of attending the Senate hearing have been detrimental to the government’s efforts to secure the vaccines because it limits Galvez from negotiating for the acquisition of vaccines.

“I think to be transparent, the issue was Secretary Galvez was saying that because of the Senate hearings, he has lost about two weeks worth of negotiations with drug suppliers. So Secretary Galvez, in fact, was saying, ‘Could I skip the hearing, because it’s very important that I resume my negotiations with the vaccine developers… otherwise we might run out of supplies,’” Roque said.

During his meeting with some members of the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases last Monday, Duterte showed his displeasure on the insinuations at the Senate and of some critics that the government’s vaccine procurement is marred with irregularities.

“He could not understand why the demeanor of the senators was apparently bellicose-like, they were war-like. And, of course, there was like already an attitude as if there was corruption going on, when it was fact-finding… So the President thought, you know, despite the separation of powers and despite the power of oversight, it does not give the senators the license to be abusive,” the Palace spokesman said.

Lack of transparency

Meanwhile, senators yesterday bristled at Roque’s claim that they were abusive and combative toward Cabinet officials during the Senate inquiry into the mass vaccination plan, saying their pointed questions were due to the lack of transparency from Malacañang.

This developed as Galvez was expected to meet with Senate President Vicente Sotto III and Senators Panfilo Lacson and Ronald dela Rosa last night, apparently in compliance with Duterte’s instructions to share details of vaccine deals being entered into by the government.

“I wonder if Secretary Roque watched the hearing for nine hours. Tell me when, what time and who was war-like or even was shouting to any of the resource persons. Imbento!” Sotto told reporters in a text message, referring to the Senate committee of the whole’s hearing last week.

“I painstakingly stayed for the entire duration, and I do not recall any senator to be war-like. Perhaps argumentative, but not war-like,” he said.

“Why? Does he expect us to treat our resource persons with tender loving care?” he added.

The inquiry was part of the Senate’s effort to ensure transparency and efficiency in the government’s COVID-19 inoculation program, according to Sotto.

“The executive department and we are both looking for what is for the greater good of the people. So (Roque) should not drum up situations that never happened,” he said.

The Senate president said he expects nothing untoward happening in the third hearing of the specially convened committee tomorrow that can be conducted in executive session, as previously requested by Galvez.

“As I said, we favor a vaccine that is correctly priced. I’m sure the President expects that, too,” Sotto added.

Sen. Bong Go stressed that Duterte would not condone corruption in the vaccine procurement and continues to trust in the competence and integrity of Galvez.

“I agree with my colleagues at the Senate that there must be transparency, but at the proper time. The executive branch must disclose details as long as the confidentiality and disclosure agreements (with vaccine makers) are not violated,” Go told radio station dzRH.

Sen. Francis Pangilinan preferred that the coming hearing would be open to the public, but said the matter is for the Senate leadership to decide.

“I’m open to an executive session, provided that details will be made public as soon as… negotiations are completed,” Pangilinan said.

Lacson said the controversy involving COVID-19 vaccines from Sinovac should be a hard lesson on honesty and transparency for officials in the program.

Lacson noted that had the officials been forthright about the conditions of negotiations with Sinovac early on, there would have been no speculations or suspicions about the matter.

He said the hard questions posed by senators were only because Galvez and other officials appeared to be evasive and were unclear in their answers.

Vaccine-related laws

In another development, the Department of Health (DOH) yesterday appealed to both houses of Congress to legislate vaccine-related laws to ensure the success of the country’s COVID-19 response.

At a press conference, Duque said the executive branch was appealing to the Senate and House of Representatives to legislate an indemnification fund for individuals who would suffer from side effects once they receive COVID-19 shots.

Aside from this, legislating for the issuance of emergency use authorization was also important, according to the health chief, despite an existing executive order that allows the Food and Drug Administration to issue such documents to vaccine candidates.

Duque bared that the government was also appealing to lawmakers for legislation on tax exemptions for vaccine imports.

“There are many evolving pieces of legislation that can ensure the successful response of the national government against the COVID-19 pandemic,” he said.

“When it comes to vaccination, we have a lot of laws that need to be passed,” he added. – Paolo Romero, Neil Jayson Servallos

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