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Examining vaccine deals are open for former Duterte executives

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On Wednesday, during the first hearing of the Senate Blue-Ribbon Committee on the purported non-disclosure agreement (NDA) with suppliers, cabinet members of former President Rodrigo Duterte refuted charges that they refused to submit vaccination agreements for the Commission on Audit’s (COA) review.

Carlos Dominguez III, a former finance secretary, told the committee that he did not object to an examination of the contracts the government made with vaccine suppliers.

“The vaccine agreements are not immune from audit, let me reiterate, we have never said, Dominguez told the Blue Ribbon Committee led by Senator Francis Tolentino.

Our vaccine purchases were primarily funded by official development assistance from our respected multilateral development partners, and the loan arrangements associated with them require an assessment of the supply agreements specifically to make sure they are free of corruption “added Dominguez.

“The COA is authorized to audit every government account per our Constitution. These contracts for the supply of vaccines are no different. While the specifics couldn’t be made public due to our confidentiality requirements, they could still be properly audited in accordance with government regulations.”

Francisco Duque III, a former health secretary who was present at the hearing, claimed that he even wrote a letter to Michael Aguinaldo, the COA chairperson at the time, asking for a special audit to be conducted on the vaccine procurement.

“Then, we asked the chairperson to conduct a full performance audit of the nation’s deployment and immunization schedule for the Covid-19 vaccinations. We have a total of 14 letters and correspondences, which range in subject matter from requests for special audits, requests for performance audits, proposed timetables, and lines for the completion and reporting out of the audit report via COA. We had also actually drafted the terms of reference that will serve as the foundation for the audit by COA “The DOH has all the documents and annexes that they could provide to the body, Duque noted.

He continued, “The entire DOH family, both from the former and present administrations, share the same purpose of making sure that our citizens’ hard-earned taxes are wisely spent and completely accounted for down to the last centavo.

In response to comments made by COA Commissioner Gamalier Cordoba at his confirmation hearing, the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee said on December 5 that it will investigate the alleged failure to disclose contracts for the purchase of vaccines.

According to Cordoba, the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank have requested a special audit of the money the government borrowed from the two organizations.

He claimed that after making a request to DOH for materials, Duque declined to provide them, citing NDA.

Tolentino suggested at the hearing that the committee hold future hearings in executive session so that members may view the details of the contracts the government and vaccine suppliers engaged in.

Carlito Galvez Jr., a former principal implementer and vaccine czar for the National Task Force on COVID-19, claimed that the administration of former President Duterte was able to quickly obtain vaccines with the primary objective of saving lives.

He added that the Republic Act 11525, also known as the Covid-19 Vaccination Program Act of 2021, which gave the National Task Force for Covid-19 and the DOH permission to purchase vaccines on behalf of the federal government, was swiftly passed by Congress.

“Recall that vaccine manufacturing at the time was extremely low and had only recently begun to increase. Due to the safeguards established by RA 11525, all of our conversations and procurement transactions were legal. We must also keep in mind that the majority of our purchases were paid for through a multilateral loan agreement with the World Bank, Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, and Asian Development Bank. As stated explicitly in the contract’s anti-corruption and transparency clause, these institutions will not tolerate corruption while they are in charge “Galvez remarked.

The National Task Force and the DOH are authorized by Section 3 of RA 11525 to negotiate and approve the terms and conditions of acquisitions on behalf of local government units and other procurement entities, including but not limited to the purchase price and the terms of payment.

According to Galvez, the law also allowed producers the confidence to sell their vaccines to the Philippines while guaranteeing parties’ accountability and openness.

However, he pointed out that one of the primary conditions for manufacturers before getting into supply agreements is the NDA.

“Consequently, we are unable to terminate the CDA (confidential disclosure agreement). The national government had no choice but to accept this deal because it was the only method to get the necessary vaccine doses at the time “explained he.

Tolentino, on the other hand, claimed that the committee would probably hold two additional sessions, one of which would be an executive session in which the committee could examine the details of the transactions.

“I think it behooves upon this committee to really determine whether the modes of procurement were utilized — national budget through the GAA (General Appropriations Act), government to government financing, tripartite agreement with the private sector and LGUs, multilateral arrangement with the ADB and the World Bank,” he said.

The use of the AP vaccine, the use of the Hill 2 project, the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank’s infrastructure investment, the World Bank’s loans, its PHP70 billion unprogrammed funds for the vaccines in 2021, as well as the procedures made not just in the procurement but in the utilization as well, must all be determined through the upcoming hearings, he continued.

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