Sotto to Roque: Senators war-like? When? Who?

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    BY RAYMOND AFRICA and JOCELYN MONTEMAYOR

    SENATE President Vicente Sotto III yesterday chided presidential spokesman Harry Roque for his remark that some senators were “war-like” during Senate hearings on government’s vaccination program.

    He said Roque is making things up.

    Referring to the Senate of the Senate committee of the Whole on Friday last week, Sotto said, “I wonder if Secretary Roque watched the hearing for nine hours. Tell me when, what time and who was war-like or even (who) was shouting at any of the resource persons. Imbento! (Made up!),” he said.

    “I painstakingly stayed for the entire duration and I do not recall any senator to be war-like. Perhaps argumentative but not warlike. Why? Does he expect us to treat our resource persons with tender loving care?” he added.

    Roque, in an interview with CNN Philippines, said President Duterte gave permission to vaccine czar Carlito Galvez Jr., also chief implementer of the National Task Force (NTF) against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), and Health Secretary Francisco Duque III to walk out of the Senate hearing if senators become “abusive.”

    The Senate is set to hold a third meeting tomorrow.

    “The President did not say that Secretary Galvez should not go to the Senate. He said, yeah you should. You should continue answering the questions because we have nothing to hide but certainly if they start being abusive, just walk out,” Roque said.

    Roque said the President felt that the demeanor of some lawmakers towards Galvez and the other officials during the recent hearings were “bellicose-like” and “war-like.”

    He said the lawmakers also act as if there was corruption in the vaccine deals.

    “So, the President thought, you know, despite the separation of powers and despite the power of oversight, it does not give the senators the license to be abusive,” he added.

    Galvez, asked about the supposed “walk out” directive, said it is better to focus on the President’s latest order, which is to talk to senators about the government vaccination plan.

    Senators, during the two hearings last week, asked Galvez to disclose the prices of COVID-19 vaccines the government has secured, saying the public has the right to know since it is their money which will used to pay for the vaccines.

    But, Galvez declined to give the specific amounts citing a confidentiality agreement with the vaccine manufacturers.

    Sen. Panfilo Lacson earlier said Galvez was willing to tell all in an executive session.

    Galvez, in a briefing yesterday at the Zuellig Pharma Corporation office in Parañaque City, said he is attending the Senate hearing tomorrow, which is separate from his meeting with Sotto and other senators about the vaccine procurement process.

    He said the latest instructions he received, through phone calls from Sen. Christopher Go, former special assistant to the President, on Tuesday night and yesterday, was to reach out and report to Sotto and the senators.

    Galvez and Duque, who was also at the Zuellig briefing, said it is important to ensure a smooth working relationship between the executive and legislative branches.

    Galvez said the lawmakers played an important role in passing the Bayanihan 1 and 2 laws while Duque said the executive branch needs the legislative branch for measures like on establishing an indemnification fund for those who would suffer serious side effects from COVID-19 vaccines.

    Duque and Galvez were at Zuellig to inspect the company’s cold storage facilities. The government officials also visited Unilab in Laguna.

    The cold chain storage facilities will be used to store the vaccines procured from foreign firms.

    Galvez said an initial 50,000 doses of vaccine from Chinese private firm Sinovac Biotech Ltd is expected in February. He said the government has secured 25 million doses from Sinovac and will receive 500,000 more doses from the same company as part of a donation from China.

    He said the government is negotiating for more donations of vaccines from two other companies but said he could not disclose any detail yet.

    The country is expected to receive the bulk of the procured vaccines in the third to fourth quarter of the year with 17 million doses for AstraZeneca Plc, 30 million doses from

    Novavax Inc, and 20 million from Moderna Inc.
    Negotiations for more vaccines from other companies are still ongoing.

    The Food and Drug Administration said the Department of Health can apply for an emergency use authorization (EUA) for the vaccines to be donated to the Philippines, instead of the pharmaceutical firm, foreign government, or an organization involved in the donation.

    “If the COVID-19 vaccine for donation does not have an EUA from the FDA, then the DOH has to apply for an EUA for the donated lot to ensure the safety, quality, and efficacy of the product being donated,” said FDA chief Eric Domingo.

    “Only after (emergency) authorization of the FDA may the DOH distribute the products to the intended beneficiaries,” he added.

    The DOH will assume full responsibility for the donation.