Senate to reconvene for another inquiry on PH vaccine budget

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, June 11) — The Senate will hold another committee hearing on June 15 to scrutinize government's vaccine negotiations and procurement amid the pandemic.

Sen. Panfilo "Ping" Lacson told CNN Philippines' The Source on Friday that the Senate Committee of the Whole will resume its hearing to raise questions on the budget allocation for pandemic response, following the request of Budget Secretary Wendel Avisado to add ₱25 billion more on top of the ₱82.5 billion already intended for the purchase of COVID-19 vaccines under the Bayanihan to Recover as One Act or Bayanihan 2.

"Meron nang available na (There's already an available budget of) ₱82.5 billion. Doing simple math, kung (if) ₱82.5 billion plus ₱25 billion that’s ₱107.5 billion," Lacson said.

President Rodrigo Duterte recently approved an additional ₱2.5 billion to the initial budget for pandemic response after Avisado said that ₱82.5 billion for the COVID-19 vaccination program this year is not enough.

Avisado said the amount will cover the purchase of four million vaccine doses and accompanying logistical and administrative costs.

READ: Duterte approves ₱2.5B more for vaccine procurement 

According to Lacson, the additional ₱25 billion being requested by the Budget Department might now entail having "too much" doses for the government's target to achieve herd immunity for 70 million vaccinated Filipinos, especially since the World Health Organization-backed COVAX initiative already committed to donating over 44 million doses to the Philippines beforehand.

"Kapag pinagsama-sama mo yun parang sobra-sobra na," Lacson said. "So we want to keep track ano na yung progress ng vaccination natin, ilan na ba yung nabili natin, magkano na yung nailagay natin as downpayment, at ilan pa yung kailangan and that is part of the oversight function ng Kongreso."

[Translation: If you combine all of that it might be too much already. So we want to keep track of the progress of our vaccination. How many were already bought, how many were posted as our downpayment, and how many more do we need, and that is part of the oversight function of Congress.]

Lacson said Senate President Vicente "Tito" Sotto III has already sent notices to senators and resource persons who should attend the hearing next week. They last held a Committee of the Whole hearing on the matter in January, before the government started its inoculation drive in March.

So far, over 6 million Filipinos have already been vaccinated against the coronavirus. But of this number, only 1.6 million have completed their COVID-19 shots.