Vaccine czar and National Task Force on COVID-19 response chief implementer Carlito Galvez Jr. on Friday said the Philippines should “set aside” its differences with China specifically on the issue of the West Philippine Sea (WPS) to end the COVID-19 pandemic.
The vaccine czar, however, retracted his statement after Senator Risa Hontiveros was surprised with his answer.
During the Senate inquiry on the government’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout, Hontiveros asked Galvez to make an assurance that the Philippine interest in the WPS will not be compromised just to avail of the vaccines from China.
“In this pandemic, the global interest of the global commons is really to save humanity, all countries rallied to support each other. That’s the context we are looking at,” Galvez said.
“So meaning ang ano po ng lahat ng countries, ‘yung tinatawag nating mga differences on the West Philippine Sea, should be set aside because this is a global pandemic, we need, nakikita po natin na talagang ang ano po natin ang problema natin ngayon is a global menace, in order to control and contain the pandemic,” Galvez added.
(That means, all the countries including the differences on the West Philippine Sea, should be set aside–because this is a global pandemic, we see that our problem is a global menace– in order to control and contain the pandemic.)
In response, Hontiveros said she is “quite surprised” with Galvez’s answer, saying our claim on the disputed territory is not a “quid pro quo” or a trade-off for a vaccine.
Galvez then clarified that the Philippines will “not compromise our stake.”
“We are adhering with the concept of equitable access, the safety, and efficacy of the vaccine, and at the same time, we are looking at the global interest of really putting an end to this pandemic,” Galvez said.
“This is a world menace…the differences that we have maybe, we have to set this aside so that we can rally, that’s my point, to rally behind saving humanity,” he added.
Recently, China, through its State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi, announced that it will donate 500,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccines to the Philippines.
No brand of COVID-19 vaccine was mentioned by the Chinese official.
Senators earlier flagged the government’s apparent preference for the Chinese-made vaccine Sinovac.
Galvez, however, assured that the government is seeking safe and efficient vaccines regardless of the brand.
At the latter part of the hearing, Department of Foreign Affairs Assistant Secretary Eric Gerardo Tamayo assured that the negotiations with other countries on the COVID-19 vaccines have “no strings attached.”
“Allow me to convey the assurances that our transactions on vaccine supply with our global partners at the bilateral and global levels do not have strings attached or bearing any quid pro quo of any sovereign territorial consideration,” said Tamayo.
“We can assure that in the particular case of the donation from China at no time did the China side even hint at tying the vaccine to the nation to any consideration.”