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Alvarez: Secret deals violate Charter

Michelle R. Guillang

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Refusal to disclose the prices of Covid-19 vaccines violates the Philippine Constitution as it is a matter of high public interest, a former top House leader argued on Monday.

The rebuke was aimed at vaccine czar Carlito Galvez Jr. who kept from revealing the cost of Covid-19 vaccines during a Senate inquiry on the national Covid-19 inoculation program last week.

Galvez cited the confidentiality disclosure agreements (CDA) the national government had signed with the vaccine manufacturers.

He warned that the Philippine government could lose about 148 million doses of vaccine if the CDA would be breached.

But for former House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, Non-Disclosure Agreements (NDA) are void and transparency in procurement contracts is necessary as stated in the Constitution.

“Assuming that there were NDAs in relation to the price of the vaccines that were entered into by the government, these are contrary to the Constitution, against the applicable law, and violative of public policy,” he argued.

 

Public interest

Alvarez particularly pointed the Charter’s Section 28 of Article II and Section 7 of Article III which state that there should be a “full public disclosure of all its transactions involving public interest” and that people have the right to know “matters of public concern.”

He said these provisions are the basis of President Rodrigo Duterte when he signed Executive Order 2 (Freedom of Information) on 23 July 2016.

Republic Act (RA) 9184 or the Government Procurement Reform Act, he added, has institutionalized these policies on government procurements.

“This is found in Sec. 3 (a.) which provides: ‘Governing Principles on Procurement… Transparency in the procurement process and in the implementation of procurement contracts,’” he stated.

“Assuming that the Procuring Entity will invoke Sec. 53 of RA 9184 and purchase the vaccines through ‘negotiated procurement,’ Sec. 53 still does not provide any basis to circumvent the Governing Principles on Procurement: Transparency in the procurement process,” he argued.

Alvarez said divulging the cost of the Covid-19 vaccines “must still be made.”

He added that although the application of government procurement reform law was exempted last year through RA 11494 or the Bayanihan to Recover as One Act, this was not extended as its validity ended on 19 December 2020.

“In any case, said exemptions still required compliance with the basic rule on transparency when it comes to procurements funded by the public treasury,” he said.

 

Transparency

Alvarez urged the national government to uphold this policy, considering that the country is facing a public health crisis.

“Trust and confidence in the government’s response are important parameters to sustain our collective efforts to combat and prevail against Covid-19. These building blocks for success, however, are eroded when important matters are not openly discussed with the public,” he said.

“For this to happen, trust is key. Transparency helps strengthen that trust,” he added.

 

Controversies

Alvarez noted that transparency in the government can avoid the emergence of corruption allegations.

“The recent uproar against what appeared — to the public — as unnecessary withholding of information, on the other hand, could have been prevented had this critical information been disclosed earlier,” he said.

“By remaining faithful to transparency, we can retain public trust and also prevent government-spending related controversies from happening, he added.”

 

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