Who’s in charge if we’re to live or die?

GOTCHA - Jarius Bondoc (The Philippine Star) - April 9, 2021 - 12:00am

Three weeks ago COVID-19 alarmingly resurged in Metro Manila and four surrounding provinces. Health specialists warned of hospital incapacity to handle the rising caseload. On live television on March 29, President Duterte announced that private firms can henceforth import their own vaccines: “I have ordered Secretary [Carlito] Galvez to sign any and all documents that would allow the private sector to import at will. No matter at how much and how many they want to bring in is OK with me.”

To date no formal order has been issued. The two succeeding sessions of the Inter-Agency Task Force on the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases did not discuss any implementing guidelines. What is Galvez to sign, some attendees wondered.

Companies, NGOs, churches and clubs need special dispensation to buy. A presidential order can supersede food and drug rules. Since the vaccines are only for emergency or compassionate use and not for mass sale, only the national government may procure.

In past administrations, when the President announced a policy, the Malacañang staff at once would draft the requisite order for signing. Sometimes the President had the paper ready for signing in public, for dramatic effect.

Perhaps it is too late. Most governments worldwide dutifully had reserved stocks while the inoculants were still being tested in July 2020. Filipinos may have missed the bus.

Only the Federation of Filipino Chinese Chambers of Commerce and Industry was able to buy. And only because it negotiated with a China maker as far back as December. It is to be given 500,000 vials instead of the 750,000 indented, due to supply glitches. Other firms that earlier ordered vaccines jointly with the government are still awaiting delivery. Under the earlier deal they have to yield to the Department of Health half of their purchase. But in Senate hearings it later turned out that the DOH can also divert the firms’ remaining half to whoever. Senator Cynthia Villar, whose firms were among the donors, was furious.

And where are government’s own vaccines? Did not Duterte promise last September that mass inoculation was the only hope from pandemic?  Senators Panfilo Lacson, Ralph Recto and Franklin Drilon pressed “vaccine czar” Galvez for answers. In last year’s deliberations on the 2021 budget, they had snipped off funds from unimportant, untimely projects to augment the Executive’s meager vaccination plan. From P2.5 billion they raised it to P72.5 billion. They figured that the allocation is enough to immunize 65 million Filipinos for herd immunity.

“Bakunang nabili? Wala. Wala tayong bakunang nabili. Wala pa.” Duterte admitted on television March 24. That was despite Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez’s report of having borrowed from international lenders $1.2 billion (P60 billion) for vaccine purchase. Mentioned were the World Bank, Asian Development Bank and Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank.

About that time too, legislators were denouncing the DOH. The latter was preparing the implementing rules and regulations of the newly enacted Vaccination Procurement Act of 2021. Manufacturers of cigarettes, spirits, infant formula, soda and sugary juices were to be prohibited from importing vaccines. The law contained no such proviso. DOH was legislating by IRR, lawmakers decried. Rep. Jericho Nograles said health bureaucrats were taking orders from an American lobbyist. Over the years millions of dollars have been released against such products.

Duterte also baffled lawmakers with a televised remark on March 22. He fulminated against granting vaccine makers immunity from suit in case of deaths. As well, against government, instead of the makers indemnifying vaccinees who may suffer adverse effects. Yet he had just signed the Vaccination Act that contained immunity and indemnification. He had certified the bill as urgent and necessary. He even sought a P500-million standby fund for indemnification.

From these events, people wonder who’s in charge.

COVID-19 contagion has multiplied 11 times in the national capital and environs Bulacan, Rizal, Laguna and Cavite. Hospitals are full. Patients are dying in admission tents and car parks waiting for bed vacancies. Short of equipment, ICU doctors are anguishing online about having to decide whom to intubate or not. More are expiring in homes. Queues of ambulances and hearses are growing longer by the day outside crematoriums, according to broadcast news.

Data show that most infectees are aged 21 to 50, and fatalities 51 to 80. “The working age population is passing the coronavirus to elders,” cardiologist Anthony Leachon notes.

“The lockdown was loosened to restart the economy,” says the former medical adviser of Galvez’s National Implementing Task Force. “But we are not doing enough of what we should have started 14 months ago – test, trace, isolate.”

Suspected infectees are left to have themselves tested with reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction. But at P3,500-P7,500 a pop most are forgoing the RT-PCR. Nearly half of 45 million Filipino workers and one million small businesses had lost livelihoods last year from the world’s longest pandemic lockdown.

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Paperback copies of “Gotcha: An Exposé on the Philippine Government” can be delivered to you by 8Letters Bookstore and Publishing. To order: https://shopee.ph/GOTCHA-by-Jarius-Bondoc-i.264837039.3870254862

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