Lacson bares vaccine kickback attempt

SEN. Panfilo Lacson said the Senate hearing on the government’s mass immunization program against the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) had exposed an attempt by some people to pocket $350 million or P16.8 billion in public funds in the form of kickbacks.

KICKVACC? Sen. Panfilo Lacson delivers the first privilege speech for the year, questioning the lack of transparency involving the procurement of Sinovac vaccines. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

“At the center of the firestorm that had almost consumed the two-day-long hearings and had consumed us the most was the Sinovac vaccine for a number of reasons,” the senator said in a privilege speech.

When the Senate hearings raised more questions than answers about Sinovac, “our officials were both tongue-tied and stuttering, leaving us with a string of flip-flopping pronouncements,” he stressed.

“Perhaps if the Senate did not tackle the controversy on Sinovac and assuming the [supposed] original price of P3,629 or $38 per two doses or P1,814 equivalent to $19 per shot was followed, compared to the $5 [price] in Thailand, easily the price difference of 25 million doses would fetch $350 million or P16.8 billion [savings for the government or kickbacks for some people],” Lacson said in Filipino and English.

“That being said, I am not prepared to accuse anyone in particular of corruption. Rather, it defies logic to suspect at least an attempt to overprice the vaccine,” Lacson pointed out.

“Again, when there is an attempt at overpricing, isn’t it also logical to think na may kikita ng limpak-limpak na salapi (that someone will earn huge amount of money [from this vaccine procurement])?” he added.

“When the Pfizer issue came about, we asked: ‘Who dropped the ball?” We haven’t even gotten a clear answer, Mr. President. And now, on the Sinovac vaccine, we ask, ‘Who dropped the price?” he asked.

Lacson agreed that Sen. Francis Pangilinan’s resolution that led to the Committee of the Whole hearings helped expose the seeming overprice of Sinovac.

Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon said the inconsistencies in the price of vaccines had created apprehension among the people.

“The public is worried that some people may be getting kickbacks from the procurement of vaccines,” he said.

“Let us not forget that under our Constitution, right to information is a basic rule. The people deserve the truth,” the senator added.

“Now, Secretary [Carlito] Galvez [Jr.] said that the price cannot be revealed because there is confidentiality agreement. That I dispute but I am willing to concede,” he continued.

“I am disputing that because in the case of Chavez vs Public Estates Authority, the Supreme Court said the people are entitled to know what happens at every stage of the negotiation,” Drilon said. “My message to Secretary Galvez, you said that you have signed a term sheet. If there is a term sheet, it shows there the price, volume and schedule of delivery.”

“What was written there? That is no longer covered by confidentiality [clause] because it has been signed already. The term sheet can no longer be changed,” Drilon said in Filipino.

“For me, Secretary Galvez, this is your obligation to inform the people. These are public funds. The people have the power to demand information as stated in our Constitution and Supreme Court,” he stressed.

“They say why politicize [the vaccine procurement]? We’re not politicizing it. We’re only examining the administration’s statements. Bakit ba kasi ayaw sabihin kung magkano (Why do they refuse to reveal the price)?” he asked.

Pangilinan said the Senate in its hearings broke the pattern of overpricing in various Covid-related products, including the price for the Sinovac vaccine.

Drilon said decisions on the choice of vaccines should be made on the basis of science: “Before you inoculate our countrymen, you must be sure that it is safe and you must be sure that it is effective. The public’s confidence on our vaccination program is a big boost to recover our economy.”

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