Senate to evaluate government utilization of P82.5 billion for vaccination program
Health workers and other members of vaccine proriority groups receive their second shot of Sinovac's COVID-19 jab at Marikina Elementary School on Tuesday, May 4, 2021.
The STAR/Boy Santos, file

Senate to evaluate government utilization of P82.5 billion for vaccination program

Cecille Suerte Felipe (The Philippine Star) - June 13, 2021 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — The Senate will convene the Committee of the Whole (COW) to conduct a hearing on Tuesday to exercise its oversight function on the government’s utilization of its P82.5-billion budget for the vaccination program.

Sen. Panfilo Lacson said the Senate COW will also evaluate the protocols and guidelines used by the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF). The hearing is scheduled at 10 a.m.

Led by Senate President Vicente Sotto III, Lacson said he and Sen. Ronald dela Rosa met with testing czar Vivencio Dizon and contact tracing czar Baguio City Mayor Benjamin Magalong last Thursday night.

Lacson said that while vaccine czar Carlito Galvez Jr. – who was not present during the meeting to receive vaccines that arrived in the Philippines Thursday night – is “too patient to a fault;” patience is sometimes “not a virtue when it comes to emergency situations.”

“More assertiveness from the country’s vaccination czars and more flexibility for implementers and decision-makers on the ground will be crucial to the success of the government’s efforts to accelerate its COVID-19 vaccination drive and achieve herd immunity quickly,” Lacson said.

Lacson commended Dizon and Magalong for assisting and supporting Galvez.

“We advised them to be more assertive. Senate President Sotto even said that if they are sure they are right and their ‘superiors’ are wrong, they can ‘defy’ them,” Lacson said in an interview on CNN Philippines.

Lacson said the people on the ground, such as mayors, can appreciate the situation better. “So, it is important that they be given flexibility and more autonomy in the implementation of the vaccination program.”

“It’s very important that our people will trust the vaccines. Our people should get the jab done and the government should get the job done. If people see shortcomings or lapses on the part of the government, how could you improve people’s trust in vaccines?” he added.

On the other hand, Lacson said those implementing the vaccination program should get enough leeway to make decisions on the ground.

Besides, Lacson said many young leaders are showing they can get the job done, with San Juan under Mayor Francis Zamora likely to be the first city in Metro Manila or even the whole country to achieve the 70-percent target for herd immunity.

He cited as well the efforts of young mayors Vico Sotto (Pasig City), Isko Moreno (Manila) and Rep. Camille Villar (Las Piñas), and Mayor Magalong himself, for encouraging their constituents to get the jab. “These are young, dynamic and progressive-thinking officials we need, more than those who insist on sticking to ‘traditional’ processes,” he said.

Lacson also noted many local government units face the dilemma of complying with President Duterte’s order to prioritize indigents, since their lists are based on the Department of Social Welfare and Development records dating back to 2015 or 2016.

Sotto said the Senate COW hearing was in response to the request of some senators on the government’s utilization of its P82.5 billion for the vaccination program.

“Many senators requested (to reconvene the Senate of the Whole Committee) and Sen. Panfilo Lacson mentioned something in the budget strategy that should be well-explained and check the policies in question,” Sotto said in an interview over radio dwIZ.

He said the hearing will cover the national vaccination program as the Senate COW exercises its oversight function.

Sotto also said there is still a need to address some policies, including the number of quarantine days. “If you come from abroad even if fully vaccinated you should still be quarantined for 14 days, foreign investors will not come here, as they need to pay for their hotel accommodations.”

Meanwhile, Lacson expressed hope the vaccination program will be accelerated soon with more interventions from the private sector.

A case in point is the Nayong Pilipino vaccination facility due to be activated in August, which could accomplish 12,000 inoculations per day, on top of a nearby facility which can accommodate 8,000 per day. Concerned government authorities are seen to improve the queueing system in their own facilities by following the lead of the private sector.

Lacson said the Senate is due to hold a hearing on June 15 to exercise its oversight functions on the vaccination program. He said Sotto already served notice to senators and those to be invited.

“We want to find out and keep track of the progress of the vaccination program. How many vaccines have been procured? How much more will be needed? That’s part of our oversight function. We want to be briefed because we are the ones who appropriate the budget. And under the law, we need to be informed how the appropriations are used,” he said.

Concerned sectors

Cebu Gov. Gwen Garcia and other concerned sectors will be among those invited to the Senate COW hearing to look into the rollout of the national vaccination program, Sotto said yesterday.

Garcia is expected to tell the Senate about the Cebu provincial government’s program on imposing a swab-upon-arrival policy for international arrivals and allow those who tested negative in their RT-PCR tests to proceed to their destinations, where they will be subject to the protocols of the local government.

Sotto said the Cebu government has enough ordinance to support their policies, which could be implemented by the IATF. “The consultants of the DOH are against it. I said ‘who among the DOH doctors are against it?’ The consultants are said to be very theoretical, they don’t know what’s going on on the ground.”

On the complaints of some local government units that there’s not enough vaccines, Sotto said anyone who wants to be vaccinated should be vaccinated. “It should be like that, everyone who wants to be vaccinated. Health workers were vaccinated first. So vaccinate who wants it.”

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