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DOH, OSG should’ve been on COVID-19 vax negotiating team —Tolentino

The Department of Health and the Office of the Solicitor General should have been part of the negotiating team for the procurement of COVID-19 vaccines, Senator Francis Tolentino said Thursday.

The lawmaker made the remark in an interview when about the Senate blue ribbon committee's recommendation for future non-disclosure agreements the government enters into.

"Siguro ang magandang isama sa recommendation, 'yung end-user, 'yung recipient should be part of the negotiating team and the Solicitor General," Tolentino said.

"Kasi dito, [National Task Force against COVID-19] and [Department of Finance]—hindi kasama sa hapag 'yung DOH, di ba? Walang virologist, walang epidemiologist," he added.

(The end-user, the recipient should be part of the negotiating team, and the Solicitor General. Because the NTF and the DOF [conducted the negotiations]—the DOH wasn't part of it, right? No virologists, no epidemiologists.)

The Senate blue ribbon committee on Thursday ended its inquiry into 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).

The issue on the NDAs was revived during the deliberations on the 2023 budget in November when Senator Francis Escudero asked how the Commission on Audit conducted the audit on the appropriations and borrowings that were allocated for vaccine procurement when there were no reports from the agencies involved.

Senator Sonny Angara, who defended the COA's 2023 budget, said the agency conducted an audit on the quantity and the utilization of the vaccines but not on the actual funds that were used for the procurement.

Joycelyn Ramos, COA's representative during the last Senate blue ribbon hearing on Thursday, said they submitted a special audit report on vaccine procurements on February 5.

But their report focused on the contracts review and not on the specific transactions, she said.

Among the findings that the COA had included in their report, Ramos said, are the lack of provisions on liquidated damages in case of delays, no provision on performance bond, and the  lack of provision on suppliers' liability for non-delivery.

Despite this, Ramos said the COA's recommendations in the special audit report took into consideration the fact that contracts were entered into during a "very inopportune time." — BM, GMA Integrated News