Duque denies corruption as senators warn of criminal raps over Pfizer deal

AdChoiceTV News — Health Secretary Francisco Duque III on Friday denied corruption surrounding the bungled deal for the Philippines’ supposed 10 million COVID-19 vaccine doses from Pfizer, even as senators warned that the Department of Health may face criminal charges for the delayed transaction.

“I think it’s really tragic, and to an extent criminal on their (DOH) part for having missed the chance of acquiring 10 million vaccines,” Senator Grace Poe, chairperson of the Senate Committee on Public Services, told AdChoiceTV News on Friday.

“We are already getting the 10 million supposedly in January, but because again,‘yung leadership ng DOH urong sulong, hindi makagawa ng desisyon at hindi makapagbigay ng tamang rekomendasyon, we missed it,” she said, adding that this supply would have brought the country closer to its target of vaccinating some 70 million people.

[Translation: We are already getting the 10 million supposedly in January, but because again, the DOH leadership cannot move decisively and kept retreating and moving forward in making recommendations, we missed it.]

Senator Panfilo Lacson revealed on Wednesday that it was Health Secretary Francisco Duque III who “dropped the ball” on the Pfizer negotiations which were started by Philippine Ambassador to the United States Jose Manuel “Babe” Romualdez and Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro “Teddyboy” Locsin, Jr. months ago.

Duque allegedly failed to sign the confidential disclosure agreement on time, which botched the deal. However, the Health chief told AdChoiceTV News that there were no 10 million doses to speak of as far as he is concerned, as the papers that reached his office only consisted of “generalities” representing the early steps of supply negotiations.

Sen. Francis Pangilinan also slammed DOH’s supposed inaction on the Pfizer deal.

“If it can be established that there was inexcusable failure to act that has led to injury either to the government or any party then Section 3e of the Anti-Graft Law will apply,” he said in a statement, also questioning if the delay was due to some officials seeking a “kickvacc” or commissions from the purchase deal.

​Duque refuted such allegations.

“Unang-una, hindi pwede magkaroon ng corruption dito [First of all, there won’t be corruption here] because the President really abhors corruption. He will be the one to jail you himself if you are corrupt. He has already yanked out several of his Cabinet members,” Duque said. “Wala iyan, walang kickback ‘yan [There’s none, there’s no kickback here].”

With the missed delivery, the Philippines can next secure supply from Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech by the second quarter of 2021 at the earliest.

Romualdez said the next delivery date will be in June 2021, or half a year from now, and for just half the original deal at 5 million doses.

For Poe, this was frustrating.

“The chance to get that was given to Singapore because they could act decisively and we can’t,” she said. “How many lives would be lost because of that lost opportunity of having the 10 million vaccines in January?”

“People are already fatigued about all of these quarantine requirements and restrictions, the economy is already suffering for it,” Poe added. “What’s how many billions (of pesos) to save the health of hundreds (of people) and to save our ailing economy?”

Senators have earlier called for Duque’s resignation in the middle of the pandemic, with Poe saying the call will be made “again and again.”

May mga opinyon ang mga tao [People have opinions] –– we respect that, it’s their right. Pero at the end of the day, what will the documents show?,” Duque said. “At the end of the day, what’s my evidence, diba? How do I present all these narratives?”

The Philippines counts 454,447 confirmed coronavirus infections as of Thursday afternoon, with 25,695 active cases and 8,850 deaths. Authorities are bracing for a surge in infections as more people go out during the holiday season. — via Sean Tyler Chan / AdChoiceTV News

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