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Tolentino: Filipinos have the right to know where, how COVID-19 vaccines were used

Senator Francis Tolentino on Sunday said Filipinos have the right to know where and how vaccines against COVID-19 were used, stressing that he supports calls to audit the procured jabs.

Interviewed on Super Radyo dzBB, Tolentino said that around P115 billion were used to purchase vaccines.

“Malaking pondo ang inilabas para sa pagbili ng bakuna kontra COVID-19 kaya kailangan itong ma-audit... Suportado natin ang panawagan na ma-audit ang mga biniling bakuna kontra COVID-19,” said Tolentino, chairman of the Senate blue ribbon committee.

(Huge funds were released for the purchase of the vaccines against COVID-19 so it needs to be audited. We support the call to audit the purchased vaccines against COVID-19.)

“May karapatan ang mamamayan na malaman kung saan nagamit o kung nagamit ba ito ng tama,” he added.

(Filipinos have the right to know where it was used or if it was used correctly.)

According to the senator, the Department of Health (DOH) must explain why 44 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines have been wasted.

He said Congress has the right to know how the budget for procured vaccines was used as part of the preparation for next year’s budget.

“Sa mga binili nating bakuna, pinakamarami ang Pfizer na nasa 93.7 million doses. Pangalawa ang Sinovac na nasa 56.11 million doses. Pangatlo ang AstraZeneca na nasa 38 million doses at pang-apat ang Moderna na nasa 33 million doses. Panglima ang Johnson and Johnson,” he said.

(Of the vaccines we purchased, Pfizer had the most at 93.7 million doses. Second was Sinovac with 56.11 million doses. Third was AstraZeneca with 38 million doses, fourth was Moderna with 33 million doses, and Johnson and Johnson was fifth.)

“Ang sabi ng DOH, batay sa standard ng WHO [World Health Organization], pinapayagan ang 10% vaccine wastage. Pero kapag inusisa, itong 44 million (doses) na vaccine wastage, pumapatak na 17% ito na mas mataas sa threshold... Dapat maipaliwanag ito ng DOH,” he pointed out.

(The DOH said, based on the standard of the WHO, 10% vaccine wastage is allowed. But when investigated, this 44 million (doses) of vaccine wastage, it represents 17% which is higher than the threshold. The DOH should explain it.)

“May record din naman na positive ang DOH... Naka-71 million doses sila for 1st doses, mahigit 73 million doses sa 2nd dose at 20 million doses naman sa booster. Halos 166 million [doses] na ang naibakuna ng DOH,” Tolentino said.

(The DOH also has a positive record. They administered 71 million doses for the 1st dose, over 73 million doses for the 2nd dose and 20 million doses for the booster. Almost 166 million [doses] have been administered by the DOH.)

Commission on Audit chairman Gamaliel Cordoba earlier disclosed that The World Bank (WB) and the Asian Development Bank (ADB) are already demanding a special audit on the loans they have granted to the Philippine government for the procurement of COVID-19 vaccines.

The COA chairman made the statement as he committed to ensure a complete audit of the public funds used for the vaccine procurements.

DOH officer-in-charge Maria Rosario Vergeire said 24 million doses have gone beyond their shelf life while 3.6 million doses have been affected by “operational wastage” caused by natural disasters, temperature excursion, and discoloration.

Vergeire said the DOH was still determining the circumstances behind the five percent of the wasted 44 million doses.

Non-disclosure agreement

Meanwhile, Tolentino said that non-disclosure agreement (NDA) was not “enough reason” not to have an audit done.

“Ang non-disclosure agreement ay 1 to 2 years lang validity... ‘Yung binabangit sa NDA ay 'yung commercial interest ng pharmaceutical company,” he said.

(The non-disclosure agreement is only valid for 1 to 2 years... what is mentioned in the NDA is the commercial interest of the pharmaceutical company

“’Yung non-disclosure agreement, ang pinoprotektahan ng mga pharmaceutical company ay 'yung mga trade secret nila, 'yung mga industrial secret o patent... Hindi naman tayo interesado roon. Ang interesado tayo ay doon sa presyo [ng mga bakuna],” he added.

(In the non-disclosure agreement, pharmaceutical companies protect their trade secrets, industrial secrets or patents... We are not interested in that. What we are interested in is the price of the vaccines.)

The blue ribbon committee chairman also said that NDAs have exemptions such as when it becomes public knowledge, when it comes to a third person or other sources, and when it is requested by a lawful authority including the Senate and COA.

Moreover, the senator stressed that the prices of the vaccines was not a “trade secret” and that DOH must be transparent regarding the matter.

“Sa atin lang, dapat malaman ng taumbayan kung tama ba ang presyo at kung nagamit ba ng tama ang pondo sa pagbili ng bakuna... Hindi rason ang non-disclosure agreement para hindi makapagsagawa ng auditing,” Tolentino said.

(For us, the people should know if the price was right and if the funds to purchase the vaccine were used correctly... The non-disclosure agreement was not a reason not to conduct auditing.)

“Gusto rin natin malaman sa auditing kung tama ba ang presyo o may overpricing ba sa mga biniling bakuna kontra COVID-19,” he furthered.

(We also want to know in the auditing if the price was correct or if there was overpricing in the purchased vaccines against COVID-19.)

Senator Sonny Angara earlier said that COA has yet to audit billions in public funds used to procure COVID-19 vaccines because its hands are tied by the non-disclosure agreements that were entered into by the Philippine government and the vaccine suppliers.

Cordoba said former Health secretary Francisco Duque III previously wrote COA that they cannot provide the documents as they have signed an NDA with the suppliers.

However, he said the COA legal office made a position that they are not bound by the NDAs.

He added that COA resident auditors are already coordinating with the DOH to secure copies of contracts and other documents related to the procurement of COVID-19 vaccines.

Senator Pia Cayetano earlier said DOH has not been privy to the cost of the vaccines as they are not a party to the NDA signed by the Philippine government and the vaccine manufacturers.

Vergeire on Friday said the DOH is allowed to provide the COA with the documents related to the procurement of COVID-19 vaccines, as stated in the NDA with the suppliers.

She also reiterated the DOH’s commitment to cooperate with the audit process and stressed that their legal experts are already looking into the matter to ensure that there will be no violation of the NDAs with vaccine suppliers. —KG, GMA Integrated News