Senate President Vicente Sotto III on Tuesday denied that senators were favoring COVID-19 vaccines offered by Pfizer-BioNTech over those from Chinese firm Sinovac.
This, after President Rodrigo Duterte mocked the lawmakers following the deaths of some old and frail people in Norway who had received the jab.
"Gusto ninyong Pfizer, kayong mga senador? In Norway, 25 persons died after receiving Pfizer vaccination. Gusto ninyo? Mag-order kami para sa inyo," Duterte said Monday night.
Sotto believes the Chief Executive was misinformed about the position of the Senate which has convened as a Committee of the Whole to loon into the government's COVID-19 immunization program.
"Tell him thanks but no thanks! I wonder what gave him the idea that the senators favor Pfizer? I asked Sen. Bong Go yesterday after he made his pitch if the President is informed of what's transpiring in our hearings. He said yes, but apparently not!" the Senate leader said in a Viber message to reporters.
"I knew he was being given the wrong information. We do not favor any vaccine," he added.
Senate inquiry to continue
Duterte also told vaccine czar Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr. not to mind the legislative investigations as this would allegedly slow down the vaccine rollout.
Sotto, nevertheless, did not yield. He said the Committee of the Whole hearing will push through this Friday.
"We will convene with our committee hearing whatever. I don't think the public will favor the idea of government not disclosing their actions [regarding the] road map of the vaccination program," he said.
Senator Panfilo Lacson, who sees an attempt to overprice Sinovac's COVID-19 vaccine, said he has not heard of any senator expressing preference for Pfizer or other brands.
"What we are doing in the Senate is an exercise of our oversight over the appropriations laws that we passed particularly on the purchase of the vaccines," he said in a text message to GMA News Online.
He reiterated that the legislators are not politicizing the government's vaccine rollout. He said they merely want to extract straightforward and honest responses from concerned executive officials so that they could be guided in their legislative work.
"Instead, the resource persons were groping, inconsistent, flip flopping and even evasive in their responses - hence our misgivings and apprehensiveness," Lacson said.
He emphasized that the information gathered from previous Senate hearings on anomalies involving the Bureau of Customs, Bureau of Corrections, PhilHealth, and the Department of Health led to the filing of criminal and administrative cases by the Department of Justice and Presidential Anti-Corruption Commission.
"Isn’t that how the executive and legislative departments work as a team in fighting corruption?" he asked.
Senator Joel Villanueva made the same point and said Congress should not be seen as an enemy of the Executive branch.
"Tuwing pinupulido po natin ang plano sa national vaccination program, ibig sabihin tinutulungan natin ang ehekutibo at hindi nakikipagkumpetensya," he said.
"Katulong po tayo, at hindi karibal. Kapag nai-tama natin ang mga nakikita nating mali sa plano ngayon, taumbayan po ang panalo dito," he added.
Betting on one brand?
Opposition Senator Risa Hontiveros also turned the tables on the Palace and said it was the one that allegedly showed preference for a single brand.
"Ang Palasyo lang naman ang nagtataya ng lahat ng pera ng bayan sa isang kabayo," she said.
"It is the Palace itself, through its spokesperson, in its prior statements, that definitely showed preference for a single Chinese vaccine, despite reports of its lower efficacy, and questionable pricing cost," she added.
Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque previously said that Chinese firm Sinovac gave the Philippines its COVID-19 vaccine at BFF (best friend forever) price.
He also claimed that Sinovac would be the only choice for Filipinos until June.
Galvez, meanwhile, said Pfizer's vaccine could be the first to be used in the country.
Emphasizing the point that the Senate is just doing its mandate for check and balance, Hontiveros said the Senate is not after a particular brand.
Lawmakers are just ensuring that the government will procure vaccines that are safe, effective and available on time, according to her.
"Kaya din natin alam ang mga kamatayan sa Norway dahil bukas at accountable ang mga health authorities at government nila sa kanilang mga aksyon. Ito ang gusto natin para sa sarili nating vaccination plan: open at transparent ang gobyerno, at fully informed ang mamamayan," she said. — RSJ, GMA News