Why senators should go easy on Galvez, Duque

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    ‘His defense of Galvez and Duque will mean nothing to the likes of Sen. Panfilo Lacson.’

    BOTH President Rodrigo Duterte and his chief presidential legal counsel, Atty. Salvador Panelo, are one in reminding the senators that officials of the Executive department who had been assigned to implement the government’s purchase and distribution of COVID-19 vaccines are doing their best.

    In other words, vaccine czar Carlito Galvez and Health Secretary Francisco Duque III should not be bothered by nitpicking and politicking senators who ask too many questions about the vaccination program. Duterte even had the temerity to gamble this way: “I’ll bet my presidency that General Galvez is honest on this one.” Well, this might be going too far for the Chief Executive, for if one respects the Office of the President, it is not something to degrade like a casino chip on the gambling table.

    It should be noted that at least P82.5 billion has been earmarked for the government’s procurement of COVID-19 vaccines. Of the amount, P70 billion will be sourced from loans, P2.5 billion from the 2021 national budget, and P10 billion from the Bayanihan 2 law.

    The government has secured millions of vaccine doses from Novavax, Sinovac, and AstraZeneca, with the initial supply expected to be delivered next month. An additional 20 million doses will be obtained from the American big pharma Moderna and some more vaccines will be sourced from the Indian manufacturer.

    Attorney Panelo issued an appeal to senators to give government officials involved in the vaccine procurement the benefit of the doubt. After all, they are the officials closest to President Duterte who genuinely abhors official corruption and is even willing to kill the corrupt. In fact, he has fired scores of top officials for graft and corruption in various agencies of the Executive department.

    Panelo said he hopes the lawmakers critical of the vaccination program would trust the officials to secure supply deals for safe and effective vaccines without corruption.

    His explanation holds some water. Panelo pointed out that the government’s vaccine purchase must pass the stringent procedures from its financial partners such as World Bank and Asian Development Bank. He added Secretary Galvez does not actually hold the funds for the vaccine purchase. Any financial transaction will be made between the concerned multilateral agency and the vaccine suppliers, he added.

    The Palace lawyer believes that since Galvez may just be likened to a department store’s purchasing manager, his role is just to negotiate for the supply and price of the merchandise; the home office is the one which will issue the check. So, no corruption there.

    The problem is that Panelo does not possess a reserve of goodwill in the Senate, and his word is doubted more than Duterte’s. His defense of Galvez and Duque will mean nothing to the likes of Sen. Panfilo Lacson.