Philippines Among First Countries To Receive US Vaccine Surplus; Palace Can’t Say If VFA Fate To Be Affected

“This donation is without any strings attached to it, so to speak,” Philippine Ambassador to the US Jose Manuel Romualdez said.

MANILA (AdChoiceTV News) — The Philippines will be among the countries to receive the first batch of COVID-19 vaccine surplus that the United States will donate to its allies, Philippine Ambassador to the US Jose Manuel Romualdez disclosed on Monday, May 31.

“I was informed by the White House just the other day that US President (Joe) Biden is going to announce this week the distribution of 80 million vaccines that are available for the world,” Romualdez said during a pre-taped televised interview with presidential spokesman Harry Roque.

Romualdez pointed out that the US has chosen its close allies and several countries in need of the vaccines among those that will be given the supply, although he has no information on the number of doses allocated for the Philippines.

“This donation is without any strings attached to it, so to speak,” Romualdez said.

He confirmed that certain US pharmaceutical companies have expressed interest to invest in vaccine manufacturing plants through a joint venture in the Philippines.

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Biden announced on May 17 his intention to ship surplus doses of COVID vaccines to needy nations abroad, including millions of doses of the US-authorized Moderna, Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson vaccines.

The majority of the planned shipments will be the AstraZeneca vaccine.

Effect on VFA

Malacañang could not say whether the Biden administration’s plan to donate COVID-19 vaccines to the Philippines would affect President Duterte’s decision on the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA).

Duterte has threatened to terminate the pact, which allows Filipino and American troops to hold joint military exercises in the Philippines.

“Well, first and foremost, we do not know yet whether the vaccines will arrive and when they will arrive so let’s wait for them to arrive,” Roque said in a press briefing.

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“Secondly, I think the President has been pondering on the issue and has a bigger framework of analysis. And let’s just wait for his decision because he’s the only one who can decide on this matter,” he added.

Asked if Duterte is waiting for the vaccines to arrive before deciding on the fate of the VFA, Roque replied: “No information other than he is still contemplating on the matter.”

Last year, Duterte threatened to scrap the VFA after the US visa of former national police chief and Sen. Ronald dela Rosa was canceled. The President has also decided to terminate the 1998 pact because of the US Senate resolution accusing his administration of human rights violations, the demand of some American lawmakers to release detained opposition senator Leila de Lima, and the US travel ban against people who are behind her detention, officials said. 

The President has postponed the termination of the agreement twice. Last February, Duterte said the US must “pay” the Philippines if it wants to keep the agreement.

Also in February, Duterte said he would seek public opinion on the VFA before he would make a decision on the defense pact.

The US sought in November a “longer” extension of the VFA to allow negotiations to address important concerns on both sides.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. announced last Feb. 11 the start of the meeting between the Philippines and the US to iron out differences over the VFA and come to an agreement.

Biden hopes to meet Duterte in person

Romualdez said the US would like the VFA to continue but they are also ready if the Duterte government would abrogate it.

As Washington remains “hopeful” for an extension of the VFA, Romualdez bared that Biden hopes to meet Duterte in person.

He said the celebration for the 75 years of diplomatic relations between the Philippines and the US “will probably, more or less, trigger” a conversation between Duterte and Biden.

“President Biden (wrote to) President Duterte not only on the occasion of the 75th anniversary but to also inform him that the relationship between the US and the Philippines will continue and that he hopes that he will be able to meet in person with the President at some point in time,” Romualdez noted.

The ambassador said the Philippines is still an important ally of the US.

“They are hopeful that President Duterte will of course extend the VFA (because) that’s part of the Mutual Defense Treaty, as part of the whole package,” he noted.

Vaccines from Russia

Meanwhile, National Task Force Against COVID-19 chief implementer and vaccine czar Carlito Galvez Jr. led Philippine government officials in welcoming the arrival of 50,000 doses of the Russian-made Sputnik V vaccines late Sunday, May 30.

Galvez thanked the Russian government for the supply, which enabled the Philippines to breach the five million mark for vaccine supplies.

“We are very thankful that we have already breached the five million figure and, this June, we will speed up. We are aiming to breach another five by the end of this month,” he said, noting that another batch of vaccine doses from the COVAX Facility will arrive in the country.

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The 50,000 doses of Sputnik V, which arrived at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport Terminal 3 on Qatar Airways flight QR928, were transported to the PharmaServ warehouse in Marikina City for storage.

The shots will be deployed in centers of gravity or areas throughout the country that are experiencing surges in COVID-19 cases.

Galvez was joined by Russian Ambassador Marat Pavlov in welcoming the Sputnik doses.

The country has so far received a total of 80,000 Sputnik V doses, including the latest shipment. The first two tranches comprising 15,000 doses each arrived on May 1 and May 12.

The national government is eyeing to reach 10 million doses by the middle of the year as the bulk of Sputnik V, Pfizer and AstraZeneca orders will arrive within this month.

On June 6, one million doses of China’s Sinovac are expected to arrive in the country while 1.3 million and 900,000 US-made Pfizer jabs are expected to arrive on June 7 and 11, respectively. Moderna vaccines, also from the US, are reportedly scheduled for delivery on June 21.

Pavlov, at the airport, said the occasion further strengthened cooperation between the two nations in fighting the pandemic.

“This is timely for the 45th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the Philippines and Russia. It is important for us to help the Filipino people. We hope to con-tribute to the strength in our relationship,” he said.

Last week, Russian Deputy Foreign Affairs Minister Igor Morgulov said the vaccine allotment is one of the prominent areas for cooperation between the Philippines and Russia and ex-pressed hope that more batches of the jabs could be delivered in the next months.Galvez said he is thankful for all the countries that committed to share their surplus vaccines with the Philippines.

/ART

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