Duterte hits critics over claims of corruption in vaccine procurement

Marje Pelayo   •   January 26, 2021   •   229

MANILA, Philippines — President Rodrigo Duterte has fired back at critics of the government’s COVID-19 vaccine procurement program over claims that transactions are tainted with corruption.

The Chief Executive is even willing to personally speak with them, particularly those who are saying that the government is favoring a manufacturer or supplier.

Kung sino nagsabi niyan (Whoever said that), please rise and be brave enough that you’re the one. I’d like to talk to you,” Duterte said.

Duterte stressed that his trusted representatives in the negotiations for COVID-19 vaccine procurement are not tasked with handling money.

His statement comes after Senator Panfilo Lacson’s post on Twitter which credits the Senate’s early probe into the government’s vaccine procurement plan for the drop in prices of Sinovac, thereby saving the people billions of pesos in the country’s vaccination program.

“I take exception to the statement nitong (that) they were able to prevent corruption or overpricing (of vaccines) because of their vigilance. No. Far from it actually. You were just muddling up,” Duterte said, adding that all negotiations made by Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr. go through review and scrutiny of Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez and himself before finality.

“I will take a look and ask around if it is really reasonable pricing for us,” the President noted.

Meanwhile, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said the Philippine Navy (PN) and the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) have freezers that the government may use to transport vaccines that require sub-zero temperatures.

He said the PN has a total of four military vessels which have built-in freezers with a temperature range of negative 18 degrees Celsius to negative 15 degrees Celsius while those of the PCG range from 25 degrees Celsius to 20 degrees Celsius.  

“Puwede po nating gamitin ito kapag magta-transport ng bakuna mula Manila at sa mga islands dito sa Visayas at saka dito pa sa Luzon siguro, (We can use those vessels to transport vaccines from Manila to the islands in Visayas and anywhere in Luzon), Lorenzana said.

The Defense Chief also said that medics from the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) are set to undergo training next week for their participation in the roll out of mass vaccination especially in the province. MNP (with inputs from Rosalie Coz)

Duterte to skip April 24 ASEAN Leaders’ meeting in Jakarta – Palace

Robie de Guzman   •   April 22, 2021

MANILA, Philippines – President Rodrigo Duterte will not be attending a summit of leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), which will be held in Jakarta, Indonesia on April 24, Malacañang said Thursday.

“Ang president po, hindi personally mag-a-attend. But I’m sure that our Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) will be there,” Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said in a media briefing.

Roque did not say why Duterte would be skipping the meeting but the DFA said in a statement that the president “decided to remain in the country to attend to pressing domestic concerns in light of the surge of COVID-19 cases.”

“President Rodrigo Roa Duterte has designated Secretary of Foreign Affairs Teodoro L. Locsin, Jr. as his Special Envoy to the ASEAN Leaders’ Meeting to be held on 24 April 2021 at the ASEAN Secretariat in Jakarta, Indonesia,” the DFA said.

“The Philippines strongly supported the convening of the Meeting even without the full attendance of all ASEAN Leaders,” it added.

The department said the special leaders’ meeting will “address urgent matters in the region, including recovery efforts, the situation in Myanmar, ASEAN community building efforts, external relations, and regional and international issues.”

“The President, through Secretary Locsin, will convey the Philippines’ commitment to ASEAN’s collective efforts in addressing threats and challenges to peace and stability in the region,” the DFA said.

“Secretary Locsin will also express the Philippines’ strong support to the initiative of Brunei Darussalam and the Secretary-General of ASEAN to use their good offices, in accordance with the ASEAN Charter, to visit Myanmar and spearhead ASEAN’s response to the crisis in Myanmar,” it added.

Duterte won’t compromise on quarantine protocols for returning OFWs

Marje Pelayo   •   April 21, 2021

MANILA, Philippines — President Rodrigo Duterte said he is not comfortable with relaxing quarantine and testing protocols for arriving overseas Filipino workers (OFWs).

During Wednesday’s (April 21) public address, the President noted that less stringent measures could compromise the entire country as COVID-19 cases continue to surge.

“I’m not quite comfortable with the relaxation that’s being brought now,” he said.

“I am not ready for a compromise lalo na ngayon. ‘Yung ibang sakit siguro, pwede pa – iyong mga rabies. Pero ito, talagang … as I have said, dapo rito, dapo roon,” he added.

The meeting which included health experts was in response to the appeal of Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III for an immediate swab test on OFWs upon arrival and a shortening of the quarantine period or their stay in hotels or isolation facilities.

“Kaya nga po kami nakikiusap sana, na kung maaari, ay we go back to the original protocol noon na pagdating ng ating OFWs, swab kaagad sila,” Bello said.

The medical experts recommended a review of the testing protocol but insisted that the implementation of strict quarantine measures is still best to be strictly enforced at this time.

“The [Technical Advisory Group] had some preliminary discussions po regarding the current issue, and we were thinking that based on the data that we have right now, it’s a better option to review the testing protocol,” said DOH-TAG member Dr. Anna Ong-Lim.

“We recommend that it be done at a later time, but the critical intervention should really be that quarantine should be strictly enforced,” she concluded.

Duterte OKs grant of one-time P20K aid to employees’ compensation pensioners

Robie de Guzman   •   April 20, 2021

MANILA, Philippines – President Rodrigo Duterte has approved the grant of one-time financial aid of P20,000 to qualified pensioners under the employees’ compensation (EC) program.

Under Administrative Order (AO) No. 39, which was signed on Monday, Duterte authorized the Employees Compensation Commission (ECC) to grant the cash aid to EC pensioners for permanent partial disability, permanent total disability, and survivorship, in the private and public sectors, “subject to the availability of funds and pertinent laws, rules and regulations.”

Duterte directed the ECC, Social Security System (SSS) and the Government Service Insurance System (GSIS) to set aside and release appropriate funding to cover the financial assistance from the Social Insurance Fund under the EC Program.

The ECC, in coordination with the SSS and GSIS, will issue the implementing rules and regulations necessary for the effective implementation of the order.

In signing the AO, Duterte recognized that the “adverse effects of the pandemic on the economy, supplementary health necessities for the battle against the virus, and restrictions imposed on our mobility and social interaction, have increased the financial and health burdens experienced by the EC pensioners.

The one-time cash aid will be granted to around 31,000 pensioners of the SSS and GSIS.

Duterte said AO 39 will take effect following its publication in the Official Gazette or in a newspaper of general circulation.

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