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Opinion

Still no vaccine cold chain

THE CORNER ORACLE - Andrew J. Masigan - The Philippine Star

The clock is ticking. Even while the bulk of government’s vaccine orders are on their way, the Department of Health still does not have its main logistics cold chain in place.

As mentioned in this corner last week, the DOH has decided to outsource all aspects of its logistics cold chain to a third party. Through public bidding, it invited logistics companies to submit cost quotations to clear vaccines through customs, provide temperature controlled warehousing and facilitate delivery to some 4,500 vaccination centers nationwide.

The first round of bids were declared a failure since bidders “failed to comply with all the requirements” of the DOH. In truth, it was the DOH who dropped the ball since its request for quotation (ROQ) did not disclose the number of vaccines to be received, stored and deployed, the schedule of vaccine delivery and location of drop-off points. These details are vital for the formulation of accurate quotations.

Back to square one, the DOH launched a second bidding exercise last March 8. Displaying utter stupidity (this is a strong word, but it is merited in this instance), the DOH failed again to disclose the exact number of vaccines to be handled. Neither were their drop-off points disclosed nor how and when the bidders are to get paid.

Worse, they required the bidders to denominate their bids based on a “per unit basis.” Each unit consists of the cost of customs clearance, one month’s worth of warehousing and delivery to 16-17 points around the country.

This is problematic since the cost to handle, say, 500,000 vaccines is not the same as handling 1 million vaccines. How can bidders possibly arrive at a “per unit” quote without knowing the quantity of vaccines to be handled?

What the DOH fails to understand is that the cost of customs clearance, warehousing and delivery each increases at different rates (they have varying multipliers) depending on quantities. Hence, one cannot assume that the cost of one unit is the same regardless of the number of vaccines. Nor can one assume that you can simply multiply the cost by a factor of two if one is to increase the number of vaccines from 500,000 to 1 million.

Zuellig Distriphil and Airspeed were disqualified from the bid for not having an ISO certificate for their warehouse. Coolair Corp. was disqualified for being one minute late. The remaining viable bids came from Air21,Royal Cargo, Nonparail and Philpharma. But each submitted cost estimates with separate price schedules to qualify their bids. This makes the bids impossible to compare.

As a result, the second bidding exercise will likely be declared a failure for a second time and this will open the way for the DOH to negotiate separately with third party contractors. Maybe this is the whole idea. Meanwhile, the clock is ticking and the DOH still has no logistics cold chain in place.

Stupidity like this is why the national vaccination program and the whole pandemic management is a mess.

*      *      *

The COVID pandemic is arguably the most complex health and economic crisis of our generation. To save lives without wrecking the economy requires an expert balancing act of management.

Some world leaders succeeded, some failed. Despite its bravura and declaration of excellence, statistics show that the Duterte government was among the worst performing in Asia. The contagion exposed the limitations of the Duterte team. It was stymied by too many “distractions,” not the least of which is its mystifying deference to China (particularly in the early days of infections and in vaccine procurement); a personal bias towards militaristic management; political grandstanding and indulging in personal revenge in the midst of a national catastrophe (ABS-CBN).

But even before COVID, the Philippines was already showing signs of weakness. Global statistics don’t lie and it shows that under President Duterte’s watch, the Philippines dropped in most development indices. These include economic competitiveness, corruption perception, press freedom, soft power, innovation index, peace index, e-commerce adoption and educational standards, among others. Overall, we are a weaker country today than we were in 2016.

Let’s be honest, President Duterte may mean well but the challenges of the pandemic and building a nation of 110 million people are simply too great. It’s hard to admit but a shift towards expert, professional governance is needed to put the country back on the path of meaningful development and inclusiveness. The status quo simply won’t do.

Until last week, a credible opposition did not exist. We have learned to write-off the Liberal Party as benign under its present leadership.

The good news is that a new opposition coalition was inaugurated last March 18 called “1Sambayan.” The name is an amalgamation of three Filipino words – “isa,” “samba” and “bayan” which, taken together, means a country united in prayer.

1Sambayan is a coalition that unites all democratic forces spanning the extreme right (the Magdalo Party) to the extreme left (Bayan Muna party-list) and all those in between. It counts among its members the Catholic church, born-again groups, Muslim groups, the academe, the urban poor, women’s groups and the LGBTQ+ sector, among others. It is the largest multi-sectoral coalition organized since the “Laban” movement of the eighties.

The personalities behind 1Sambayan are known oppositionists with stature. Its board of convenors consists of: former senior associate justice Antonio Carpio, former ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales, former DFA secretary Alberto del Rosario, former DepEd secretary Bro. Armin Luistro and lawyer Howard Calleja, among others.

The purpose of the 1Sambayan initiative is to restore competent and honest governance in the land. Hence, the group will embark on a consultative selection process to form a slate of presidential, vice presidential and senate candidates – all of whom represent good governance, honesty, expertise, adherence to the rule of law and fear of God. Candidates must also maintain a strong position opposing China’s advancing territorial grab.

Justice Carpio disclosed that 1Sambayan had already interviewed the opposition figurehead, VP Robredo. They also admitted to speaking to Isko Moreno, Grace Poe, Sonny Trillanes and Nancy Binay. The vetting of candidates is still in its initial stage and the board expects to speak to more aspirants as we approach the official filing of candidacy in October. 1Sambayan will take responsibility over fund raising and forming a political machine to organize grassroots sorties and guard against electoral fraud.

Until last Thursday, I was worried that there was no viable opposition party in sight. With 1Sambayan, there is hope that we can realize positive change.

*      *      *

Email: andrew_rs6@yahoo.com. Follow him on Facebook @Andrew J. Masigan

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