POSTSCRIPT / December 20, 2020 / Sunday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Who gave lead role to Chinese vaccine?

WHY do government officials who know the facts seem to be afraid to tell the people who chose Sinovac Biotech of China to be given a lead role in the COVID-19 mass vaccination starting next year despite its comparatively higher price?

The jockeying for key participation started with the British-Swedish pharma firm AstraZeneca being contracted by private business firms to supply an initial 2.6 million doses of its vaccine by middle of next year. Its published price is P620 for two doses per person.

On Tuesday, Foreign Secretary Teddy Locsin Jr. disclosed that Pfizer was to deliver 10 million doses in January had not somebody — who many people deduced was Health Secretary Francisco Duque – “dropped the ball”. Its published price is P2,379 for two doses.

Spurting from behind to hog the front, Sinovac Biotech of China was tapped to supply by March the largest number of doses at 25 million, according to vaccine czar Carlito Galvez Jr. Its published price is P3,629.50 for two doses.

Those who are not familiar with the  intricacies of government procurement were surprised to see that Sinovac with its price (P3,629.50) that is six times that of the cheapest (P629) was able to sneak past everybody and secure the biggest order.

We reiterate the question asked last time: Who makes the big decisions in the multibillion-peso mass vaccination program? Is it General Carlito Galvez Jr., since he is the “vaccine czar”, or Health Secretary Francisco Duque by virtue of his office, or President Duterte himself?

Galvez the soldier does not look like he was the one who ordered it, more like the one ordered to do it. Neither does Dr. Duque appear powerful enough to pull something like that, unless instructed.

Was it President Duterte then? Nobody is talking. But then, assuming it was Duterte who told Galvez to move Sinovac to the head of the line of suppliers, what can anyone do about it?

Early on, Duterte told the nation he did not like the law requiring that government purchase orders be given to the lowest qualified bidder. He said the lowest-bidder rule leads to corruption, and he knows what he is talking about.

Assuming nobody dares to object when Duterte says that’s what he wants, should not the people be given at least the courtesy of being told the President’s wishes were just being followed? Responsibility should be clear, and accountability inescapable.

Have we become too docile? It seems so. This happens when people witness critical voices being permanently silenced outside the legal due process. The conditioning always uses the element of fear.

Just yesterday, prohibited drugs were the excuse for runaway extrajudicial killings. “You destroy my country, I’ll kill you” was drummed systematically into the public mind.

From drugs, the messaging has latched on to another vehicle of terror – the deadly coronavirus – in whose name basic rights (e.g. freedom of speech, right to peaceably assemble to air grievances, etc.) continue to be suppressed or violated.

…But we are straying from our topic, which is the COVID-19 mass vaccination.

Hearing the alibi of officials who are being called down for failing to clinch a January delivery of 10 million doses of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, we see it as not a case of somebody “dropping the ball” but more of another instance of “passing the ball”.

The person of interest, Duque, explains that he was not aware Pfizer was waiting for his approval of a Confidentiality Disclosure Agreement that normally accompanies purchase orders of that nature and which he had to refer to the proper authorities for guidance.

When Duque appears during the weekly televised show of Duterte, he strikes us as having been sufficiently intimidated due to his fumbles on public health issues, and ready to do as told.

Explaining to media his supposed dropping of the ball, he said he thought the CDA was to be signed by Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea. Anyway, he has signed it, but the delay pushed the January delivery of Pfizer vaccines to June. Was the delay deliberate?

Ladies and gentlemen, you’re watching the usual “passing the buck” ballgame played by bureaucrats trying to escape censure or charges arising from things they had done or did not do.

When the buck-passing goes on long enough, the spectators get tired and stop gazing or guessing who really is to blame. One can then stop following the ball and jump to whatever conclusion he wants.

Still on passing the ball, in his last TV show Duterte agreed with the Valenzuela mayor who suspended the local business permit of the private firm running the traffic-choked North Luzon Expressway. He also said that the Toll Regulatory Board supervising NLEx was incompetent.

Duterte said the entire board should be fired and replaced by the best managers around, namely the retired generals forming a phalanx around him.

Seated a little to Duterte’s left when he said that was Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade, the TRB chair himself. We were waiting for him to resign on the spot, to grab the opportunity to finally liberate himself from his punishing job, but he did not.

These are the TRB members described by Duterte as incompetent and who must resign: DPWH Secretary Mark Villar, Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez, NEDA Director-General Karl Kendrick Chua, and Reynaldo Junia, a member representing the private sector. Their respective undersecretaries or seconds-in-command are ready to take their places.

If a bloodbath, a mass resignation, is a more cleansing purgative, these TRB officials should also quit: engineer Abraham Sales, executive director; Josephine Turbolencia, chief, administrative and comptrollership office; and Julita Bingco, officer-in-charge, regulation division.

(First published in the Philippine STAR of December 20, 2020)

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Dear Sir Pascual, Why is our media not reporting on the fainting nurse incident minutes after the Pfizer vaccine? And why is adverse reactions and anti-vaxx comments being censored or deleted from YouTube, FB, IG, etc. And what about similar instances with Moderna and AstraZeneca and Sinovac? Why are the trials being skipped or discontinued? Why is our media cherry-picking pandemic news?

Edgar

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