THE country’s procurement of coronavirus disease-19 (COVID-19) vaccine “to save lives and livelihood is at the mercy of foreign lenders,” Anakalusugan party-list Rep. Mike Defensor said on Saturday.
“While our officials are quarreling on whether we missed the bus or dropped the ball on the Pfizer vaccine, funding for our procurement remains uncertain,” Defensor said.
“Thanks to Congress, which, ironically, opted to prefer loans mostly from foreign sources — instead of the taxes we pay to the government — to fund the purchase of vaccines against the highly infectious new coronavirus,” Defensor said.
Defensor added that the bicameral conference committee (bicam) that drafted the final version of the proposed P4.5-trillion 2021 national budget maintained the vaccine procurement fund at P2.5 billion, as proposed by Malacañang.
“Assuming we can get the injections at $10 (P500) per dose, which would probably be the lowest price, and two doses are needed for complete immunization, P2.5 billion is good for 2.5 million Filipinos at an average of P1,000, or just 10 percent of the government’s initial vaccination target of 25 million to 30 million of our population,” he stressed.
Defensor pointed out that P2.5 billion “is the only vaccine procurement allocation that is sure of tax revenue support, meaning it will be funded out of people’s taxes as it is part of programmed appropriations in the proposed budget for next year.”
To console a public expecting to be inoculated next year so it could soon return to normal life, the bicam relegated P72 billion for vaccines and related expenses like storage to the “un-programmed” part of the budget, he said.
“An un-programmed appropriation is available only if there is excess tax collections, there is a new tax source or there are loans. Since it is unlikely that there would be excess collections or a new tax because of the pandemic, borrowings will be the funding source for vaccine procurement,” he said.
However, Defensor noted the assurances of Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez, Malacañang, and certain bicam members and leaders of Congress that loans would indeed be available for vaccinating a large part of the population against COVID-19.
“Nonetheless, the preference for borrowings over sure tax revenues to get our weary people out of this pandemic speaks volumes of our sense of priorities,” he said.
He said the bicam report shows that the panel approved realignments in the budget totaling P182.8 billion, with adjustments later ratified by the two chambers of Congress.
“Almost P183 billion was juggled. And none of that huge amount, not even a centavo, went to vaccine acquisition,” he lamented.