The Department of Health (DOH) will submit all documents related to the national government's procurement of COVID-19 vaccines to the Commission on Audit (COA) on Thursday.
DOH officer-in-charge Maria Rosario Vergeire made the commitment during the Senate blue ribbon committee hearing on the alleged refusal of the Health Department to release the details of the vaccine procurement contracts on the pretext of a supposedly existing Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA).
During the hearing, committee chairperson Senator Francis Tolentino pressed the DOH to provide a date when they will submit the documents that will allow the COA to start the audit on the vaccine procurement.
"This committee is more interested in the NDAs and that's probably part of the mandate of COA to have the unredacted,non-redacted contract even the pre-agreement sheets to be in your possession," Tolentino said.
"So the question is when can you provide the COA copies of this? Ang sabi ninyo kanina sa bawat agreement kailangan silang humiling. In open session today, they are now requesting that they'd be provided. How fast can you provide the COA with copies of this?" he asked the DOH.
In response, Vergeire said: "We're already preparing and we will be submitting as soon as possible...maybe by tomorrow before lunch time if that is okay."
Since the Senate hearing is an official proceeding, Vergeire said COA's statement requesting for the documents will serve as basis for the request to disclose the details of the vaccine contracts.
At the early part of the hearing, former Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said the DOH had transmitted the documents to the state audit agency before he stepped down from office.
As early as October 2021, Duque said the DOH and the National Task Force have reached out to the vaccine manufacturers to make the necessary notification and secure the requisite consent based on the terms of each agreement.
"Last May 16, 2022, even before I stepped down, the DOH was able to provide some transaction documents to the COA and again I would like to request for the DOH's official transmittal of said letters and correspondences as annexes to support these statements of mine," Duque said.
COA Director IV Joycelyn Ramos confirmed that the DOH had submitted the documents but those were redacted.
"I'd like to confirm that they have submitted these documents, however we have yet to receive the not redacted documents," she said.
"Our latest communication dated December 6,, asking for the documents that are not redacted and still we do not have these documents," she added.
For her part, Vergeire explained that in October 2021, they communicated with the vaccine manufacturers such as Pfizer, Astrazeneca, Moderna, Sinovac, among others, to seek their permission for the DOH to disclose the information to COA as well as the Senate.
She said the agreements with the vaccine manufacturers have a similar clause that they should be informed if the government will disclose the details for legal procedures and auditing purposes.
However, Vergeire said only Pfizer, Sinovac and Astrazeneca had responded to the DOH.
The DOH official said Pfizer allowed them to disclose the details to COA but the state audit agency must also uphold the confidentiality agreement.
Vergeire said they were not able to give the COA the documents as the latter stated that they are not covered by confidentiality agreement as it was entered into only by the DOH and the manufacturer.
Meanwhile, Vegeire said Sinovac did not allow the DOH to disclose the specifics of their contract with the government, especially the pricing information of the vaccines.
On the other hand, Astrazeneca allowed the DOH to disclose the information but it should be divulged discreetly.
For the second time, Vergeire said they wrote to the vaccine manufacturers for the purpose of the Blue Ribbon hearing but only Pfizer and Astrazeneca responded.
Pfizer allowed the DOH to disclose the information through an executive session while Astrazeneca said they are very willing to disclose the information.
"We have already prepared the documents that we are submitting to the Senate committee," she said.
"My response to the request of COA would be the the information will be provided through an executive session for the Pfizer and for the others, which we are still waiting for the response, if COA would just reiterate their communication officially to us so that we can facilitate the submission already of these documents," Vergeire added.
In closing the hearing, committee chairperson Senator Francis Tolentino said they will conduct an executive session for the NDAs included in the vaccine contracts.
"The only remaining issue now is the NDA which this committee during the next hearing would probably require in an executive session. We will have an executive session with the COA and with the other resource persons present here, the members of this committee come 2023," he said.
Duque, former vaccine czar Carlito Galvez, and former Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III clarified during the hearing that they never refused to subject the vaccine contracts to auditing and they only followed their commitment not to disclose the details publicly. — RSJ, GMA Integrated News