Senators are now convinced that vaccine czar and National Task Force on Covid-19 response chief implementer Carlito Galvez Jr. cannot fully-disclose the prices of coronavirus vaccines due to the Confidential Disclosure Agreement (CDA).
The development came after Senate President Vicente Sotto III, Senators Panfilo Lacson, and Ronald de la Rosa along with Baguio City Mayor Benjamin Magalong held a meeting Wednesday night.
The meeting was conducted after President Rodrigo Duterte directed Galvez to disclose with Sotto the details of the vaccine negotiations that the government is currently pursuing.
“We were able to see all the necessary documents and proposed agreements. Indeed, there are non-disclosure agreements mandated by the [pharmaceutical] companies internationally. I will inform our colleagues on the important facts ASAP,” Sotto said in a text message to reporters.
“[General/Secretary] Galvez assures us through the agreements that there will be no room for overpricing by any person, entity, or group as all payments will go directly to the Pharma companies from the lending institution who will also set in place proper safeguards,” he added.
Despite the clarifications made by the vaccine czar, Sotto said Senate will push through with the continuation of the inquiry on vaccine deals and the government’s rollout plan.
“Hopefully, we will be able to elicit enough information to be able to convince our countrymen that the vaccines no matter what brand will be necessary, for us to defeat the virus,” he said.
Honest, simple man
Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo has vouched for the integrity of Galvez amid fears by some of possible corruption in the government’s vaccine purchase.
During his online program, “Counterpoint,” Panelo shut down insinuations that Galvez, a former chief of staff of the Armed Forces, is taking part in any irregularity.
He even described Galvez as an honest and simple man.
“You know, Secretary Galvez is a very simple man. He’s honest. And those who are with him are also honest. First and foremost, the President is honest, if the President is honest of course down the line dishonest will not work. The President will kick him out from work, he will immediately be removed,” he said.
Panelo, at the same time, praised Galvez for saving the Philippines some $700 million in the purchase of Covid-19 vaccine brands through government deals.
“Imagine that,” Panelo exclaimed. “Based on his computation we were able to save $700 million, that’s huge amount of money that’s why he was upset. I cannot understand those in the Senate, they are doubting him,”
In a separate statement, Lacson echoed Sotto’s statement, saying Galvez’s briefing with the lawmakers has “clarified a lot of issues and concerns raised by the senators that have remained unresolved.”
“We advised him to explain in tomorrow’s hearing the same way that he did last night, without violating the terms of the agreement with the vaccine suppliers,” he said.
The senators also committed to honor and respect the terms laid out in the CDA so that they will not jeopardize the deliveries of vaccines in the country, Lacson said.
Mind your back
“We were shown the documents. And we have no doubt about Secretary Galvez’s integrity and his sincerity to accomplish his task,” he said but the lawmaker disclosed that he has warned the vaccine czar to be wary of the people whom he is working with.
“We advised Sec. Galvez to mind his back, front, left, and right sides. He may have the best of intentions but there may be people pushing him out front to do the talking and explaining to take advantage of his credibility while pursuing their own interests. He assured us that he will make it very hard for those people to even have an opening for that opportunity,” he said.
Meanwhile, Senator Risa Hontiveros urged representatives of China-based pharmaceutical company — Sinovac to appear in the Senate inquiry on the government’s vaccine rollout to clarify senators’ “concerns and confusions,”
In a statement released a day before the inquiry’s continuation, Hontiveros pointed out that the P74 billion budget should not be spent on vaccines that are still lacking data from its manufacturer.
“As long as the Sinovac representatives are not appearing before us and as long as their data are lacking, the Senate, in conscience, should not allow a single peso to be spent on Sinovac’s Covid-19 vaccine, especially if they fail to satisfactorily present convincing information about its safety,” Hontiveros said.
Among the information she is seeking from the Beijing-based pharmaceutical firm are the incomplete data on the vaccine, the inconsistent data on its efficacy, the side effects, and the standard price.
The lawmaker cited reports of Sinovac’s alleged history of bribery which she said was a factor in gaining the public’s trust in the deals it is entering with the Philippine government.
“This is not a simple business deal. We should not gamble the government funds especially the safety of our people. If we will buy from Sinovac, they should prove that their product is worth our money and effort. Because right now, the Filipino people are not convinced,” she said.
In the list of invited guests provided by the Senate staff, Sinovac was among the pharmaceutical companies that were asked to attend the inquiry.
Also invited were Zuellig Pharma Philippines, Pfizer Philippines and Unilab Inc.