So who really dropped the ball? | Inquirer Opinion
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So who really dropped the ball?

The recent brouhaha about somebody “dropping the ball” with regard to getting 10 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine by end January hasn’t gotten the public attention it deserves.

Maybe this is because government authorities—the executive, the legislature—have been dropping the ball so often with respect to the war against COVID-19 with such devastating consequences on the economy (with the poor suffering the most), that we have become inured to their mistakes. Manhid na.

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But we have to learn from their mistakes, if only for the material we need for the day of judgment—meaning election day—when we have to decide who should lead us. And if they are no longer running for office, let us at least take it against their relatives who will be. “The sins of the father….” The dynasty syndrome is strong.

So who dropped the ball this time? The fingers (of our solons) are pointing at Health Secretary Francisco Duque III, together with hints at “kickvacs” (real cute). Heavens. Let’s analyze whether this could have any basis. In the first place, when Duque was in Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s Cabinet, the charges of corruption leveled around the Arroyo administration never touched him. When he served as chair of the Civil Service Commission, he got nothing but praise for the way he managed that agency, and the transparency that he insisted accompany every decision made. With the PhilHealth issue, again, no corruption charges have stuck.

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Nor have the charges brought against him about using his position to make money for his family (renting out their buildings to the Department of Health) ever gotten any traction. He is not, nor was he ever, married. No family baggage there. Therefore, not the best candidate for corruption.

And where would the “kickvacs” have come from? That would imply that some other pharmaceutical would have bribed the secretary to delay signing with Pfizer. Could it have been AstraZeneca (Oxford University)? Please. Moderna (American)? Or perhaps Sinovac or Sinopharm? The last two are Chinese.

Anyway, Rappler has a timeline of the Pfizer-Philippine discussions. Some important points stand out: One, the DOH was not in charge of vaccine evaluation. Two, Duque signed the confidentiality disclosure agreement (CDA) with Pfizer on Oct. 20, the Department of Science and Technology signed theirs at the beginning of November, Gen. Carlito Galvez Jr. signed his CDA on Nov. 30. Why these separate agreements? Well, originally, Pfizer asked that the Office of the President sign just one, and it took Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea at least a month to turn that down, and gave the role to the DOH, but that is apparently inconsistent with current rules.

Ah, now we’re getting closer to the President. This newspaper reported that sometime mid-September, President Duterte went on a rant against pharmaceuticals (he did not mention names, but it was 10 days and 7 days after two interagency meetings with Pfizer) that wanted advance payment for the vaccines. Think of the chilling effect of that rant. The President only changed his mind in late November.

Sum: The information is all there. That means that a legislative investigation will be just five minutes of fame each for the legislators. Who will have the nerve to say that the President had probably more to do with “dropping the ball” than Duque?

And BTW, a little arithmetic: 10 million doses (for 5 million people) of Pfizer’s vaccine would cost the Philippines P10 billion. Was there money set aside for that in 2020 for the vaccines set to arrive by the end of January? Is it possible, dear Reader, that the legislature dropped the ball, too? So what are we even talking about?

A penultimate point: Do you know that Vietnam (Nanogen Biopharmaceutical, founded in 1997) is developing a vaccine? Do we have the same capability? If so, where is the funding?

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Finally: The vaccines, aside from differences in efficacies and technology, come in a wide range of prices. Example (per dose): AstraZeneca, $3-$4 (not-for-profit price levels during the pandemic, and in perpetuity for low and lower-middle-income countries); Pfizer, $18.80-$20; Sinovac, $13+ – $60 (lower figure is what it charged Indonesia, and the higher figure is what it charged Chinese citizens when it first came out).

I don’t know how much Sinovac is charging the Philippines, but I am glad that we bought from AstraZeneca. Congratulations, government. You did at least one thing right.

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TAGS: corruption, COVID-19, dropped the ball, Francisco Duque III, governance, kickvacs, pandemic, Pfizer, Philhealth, Rodrigo Duterte, vaccine
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