President Rodrigo Duterte sees no “major lapse” committed by Health Secretary Francisco Duque III contrary to allegations that he had messed up an opportunity to secure 10 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines from Pfizer by January 2021, Malacañang said Thursday.
The President, however, asked Duque to clarify whether negotiations for COVID-19 vaccine purchase were stalled by his failure to submit a document to the American manufacturer, said Duterte’s spokesperson Harry Roque.
“I think from the overall demeanor of the President, wala naman po siyang nakikitang major lapse dahil ang pinag-uusapan po ay kontrata at hindi naman po abogado po si Secretary Duque,” Roque said in a televised briefing.
“Wala pong danyos na nangyari dahil patuloy pa rin po ang pagkuha natin ng Pfizer,” he added.
The Palace official also bared that Duque was “very emotional” when he had defended himself from the accusations before Duterte and other Cabinet members during a meeting Wednesday night.
The issue stemmed from Foreign Affairs Secretary Locsin Jr.’s tweet that the country missed the chance to acquire 10 million vaccine doses from Pfizer since somebody “dropped the ball.”
Philippine Ambassador to the United States Jose Manuel Romualdez and Sen. Panfilo Lacson later said Locsin was referring to Duque, who purportedly failed to submit the required Confidentiality Disclosure Agreement (CDA) to Pfizer.
Earlier in the day, Duque said the Department of Health cannot approve the CDA on behalf of the national government, prompting him, the Department of Science and Technology, and vaccine czar Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr. to sign the document separately.
“When you go through a process, you cannot just be hurrying up things just like that,” Duque told ANC.
These issues were raised amid questions as to why China-made vaccines are among the first doses that will roll out in the Philippines despite doubts on its safety and efficacy.
Roque, meanwhile, said the conflict between Locsin and Duque “does not affect our need to have vaccines because the vaccine czar is no other than Secretary Galvez.”
He added that under the current negotiations, Pfizer vaccines are expected to arrive in the country during the second or third quarter of 2021.
“All of them can fight if they want. But the President has made it clear: there is only one person in charge of getting the vaccine, it’s Secretary Galvez,” he said.
Roque also said it is unlikely for the Philippines to acquire Pfizer vaccines as early as January 2021 since the first batch of doses has been paid for by wealthier countries.
Duterte has repeatedly refused to fire Duque despite public clamor for the latter’s resignation over his supposed lackluster performance in handling the coronavirus pandemic and the corruption allegations at PhilHealth.