Drilon wants Senate to summon PSG chief over COVID-19 vaccination

Robie de Guzman   •   January 1, 2021   •   491

MANILA, Philippines – The chief of the Presidential Security Group (PSG) must be summoned to the Senate’s inquiry into the government’s COVID-19 vaccination plan to explain the controversial advanced vaccination of his unit, Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon said.

“The PSG Commander must be called and must appear in the investigation of the Committee of the Whole to shed light on this issue,” Drilon said in a statement Thursday.

“The most important ‘who’ and ‘how’ of the story remains a mystery. The PSG commander is deliberately withholding the basic questions of who and how from the public,” he added.

PSG commander Brigadier General Jesus Durante earlier admitted that some of the presidential guards “independently” inoculated themselves with an unregistered vaccine without the approval of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

The PSG chief took full responsibility for the administration of the unregistered vaccine as he stressed that it was done without the knowledge of President Rodrigo Duterte or any other agency.

Drilon said Durante must be made to explain on how they obtained the vaccine and where it came from.

“All they give to the public are alibis, excuses and lies. There is more to it that will be revealed to the committee once Brig. Gen. Durante appears in our hearing. The Senate must summon the PSG commander,” he said.

“Who else was involved? How did unregistered Covid-19 vaccines enter the country? Who imported it from China?” he added.

Durante has yet to issue a statement in response to Drilon’s remarks.

The Senate Committee of the Whole is set to conduct an inquiry into the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines in the country on January 11. RRD (with details from Correspondent Harlene Delgado)

‘Against PH laws’: Drilon backs NTF stand vs blanket immunity for vaccine makers

Robie de Guzman   •   February 26, 2021

Senator Franklin Drilon

MANILA, Philippines – Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon said the government cannot grant absolute and blanket immunity to vaccine manufacturers, saying it is against the law and contrary to public policy.

Drilon issued the statement in support of National Task Force (NTF) COVID-19 and vaccine czar Carlito Galvez Jr., who earlier said that the government cannot agree to a full immunity for vaccine makers.

Galvez revealed late Wednesday that there are vaccine makers that demand full immunity but said the government cannot do so out of concern over malpractices and willful misconduct.

“Under the COVID-19 Vaccination Program Act Congress passed last February 22, COVID-19 vaccine manufacturers are immune from suits for claims arising out of the administration of the COVID-19 vaccine, but not for willful misconduct or gross negligence,” Drilon said.

The senator cited Section 8 of the said measure which states that “notwithstanding any law to the contrary, public officials and employees, contractors, manufacturers, volunteers, and representatives of duly authorized private entities who are duly authorized to carry out and are actually carrying out the COVID-19 vaccination program shall be immune from suit and liability under Philippine laws with respect to all claims arising out, related to, or resulting from the administration or use of a COVID-19 vaccine under the COVID-19 vaccination program except arising from willful misconduct and gross negligence.”

“The government cannot extend a blanket immunity to vaccine manufacturers as it is against the law and contrary to public policy,” Drilon said.

The lawmaker, however, noted that any vaccine recipient can file claims for damages, based on the vaccine manufacturers’ liabilities arising from willful misconduct and gross negligence.

“It is part of their individual and private rights that cannot be set aside by the government,” he explained.

According to Drilon, gross negligence is defined by the Supreme Court as “negligence characterized by the want of even slight care, or by acting or omitting to act in a situation where there is a duty to act, not inadvertently but willfully and intentionally, with a conscious indifference to the consequences, insofar as other persons may be affected.”

Willful misconduct, on the other hand, exists where the acts “were impelled by an intention to violate the law, or were in persistent disregard of one’s rights, as evidenced by a flagrantly or shamefully wrong or improper conduct.”

Drilon also said the establishment of an indemnity fund to compensate inoculated individuals who would experience severe adverse effects is also provided in the measure.

“The government set up the an indemnity fund to compensate any person inoculated through the vaccination program. The indemnity fund will take care of the costs for deaths, permanent disabilities and hospital confinements caused by vaccination”, Drilon said.

The bill likewise earmarked P500 million of the President’s P13 billion contingent fund for the COVID-19 National Vaccine Indemnity Fund. It will be administered by PhilHealth.

Drilon said the COVID-19 Vaccination Program Law will not only expedite the purchase and administration of vaccines but also sets aside money to secure the interest of the people against unforeseen effects thereof.

The proposed vaccine bill is now up for President Rodrigo Duterte’s signature.

Comelec urged to expand satellite voter’s registration, buy more biometric scanners

Robie de Guzman   •   February 8, 2021

MANILA, Philippines – Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon on Monday called on the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to expand its satellite voters’ registration program and purchase more biometric scanners in order to facilitate a speedy voter’s registration.

In a statement, Drilon stressed that Congress has allotted sufficient funds to the Comelec under the 2020 and 2021 national budgets and that the poll body should use it to “buy more biometric gadgets, hire more consultants or job order employees and even rent out a bigger space or venue of voter registration.”

“Huwag na po nating tipirin ang budget. Kung kailangan dalhin sa bawat barangay ang voters’ registration, the Comelec must do it,” he said.

The senator said the lack of sufficient biometric scanner further slows down the registration process.

“Even if people go to the Comelec office to register, the Comelec has no capacity to accommodate a large number of applicants per day for a number of reasons, which include insufficient manpower and inadequate number of biometric scanners,” he said.

He also noted the lack of bigger Comelec offices in all districts to accommodate a large number of applicants.

Drilon believes that installing satellite voter registration sites is a solution within the law that the poll body should maximize and use efficiently to increase voters for the 2022 national and local elections.

The senator pointed out that due to COVID-19 health protocols, Comelec offices in the country have to limit the number of registrants they could accommodate in a day.

Citing Comelec data, Drilon said there are still three million new voters to be registered and seven million who need to renew their registration because they have not voted in the last two elections.

“There is no way the Comelec can reach its target number of voters for next year’s election at that rate of 50 to 70 registrants per day. We are running out of time. COMELEC should intensify its efforts to install more registration sites,” he said.

Drilon said the poll body can organize satellite registration in open courts, churches, schools with safety protocols followed to cover more applicants.

He also urged the commission to consider putting more than one satellite registration sites for cities with voting big populations.

“They can coordinate with the homeowner’s association to open their clubhouse or basketball courts for the registration. They can coordinate with the churches to open their doors. The National Secretariat of Social Action had offered to facilitate opening up of the Churches,” he added.

Comelec should hire more people to manage the satellite registration all over the country, he added.

“Let’s hire those IT people who lost their jobs. They know how to operate biometric machines. It can generate income for them for at least three to four months. They can be accompanied by a Comelec civil servant who can supervise the operation,” Drilon said.

Comelec earlier said it has extended the registration hours for new voters, opening its offices even on Saturdays to encourage more registrants.

The poll body said it is also eyeing the implementation of barangay satellite registration to accommodate more applications but added that it would depend on the contamination rate in the area.

Duterte hits critics over claims of corruption in vaccine procurement

Marje Pelayo   •   January 26, 2021

MANILA, Philippines — President Rodrigo Duterte has fired back at critics of the government’s COVID-19 vaccine procurement program over claims that transactions are tainted with corruption.

The Chief Executive is even willing to personally speak with them, particularly those who are saying that the government is favoring a manufacturer or supplier.

Kung sino nagsabi niyan (Whoever said that), please rise and be brave enough that you’re the one. I’d like to talk to you,” Duterte said.

Duterte stressed that his trusted representatives in the negotiations for COVID-19 vaccine procurement are not tasked with handling money.

His statement comes after Senator Panfilo Lacson’s post on Twitter which credits the Senate’s early probe into the government’s vaccine procurement plan for the drop in prices of Sinovac, thereby saving the people billions of pesos in the country’s vaccination program.

“I take exception to the statement nitong (that) they were able to prevent corruption or overpricing (of vaccines) because of their vigilance. No. Far from it actually. You were just muddling up,” Duterte said, adding that all negotiations made by Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr. go through review and scrutiny of Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez and himself before finality.

“I will take a look and ask around if it is really reasonable pricing for us,” the President noted.

Meanwhile, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said the Philippine Navy (PN) and the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) have freezers that the government may use to transport vaccines that require sub-zero temperatures.

He said the PN has a total of four military vessels which have built-in freezers with a temperature range of negative 18 degrees Celsius to negative 15 degrees Celsius while those of the PCG range from 25 degrees Celsius to 20 degrees Celsius.  

“Puwede po nating gamitin ito kapag magta-transport ng bakuna mula Manila at sa mga islands dito sa Visayas at saka dito pa sa Luzon siguro, (We can use those vessels to transport vaccines from Manila to the islands in Visayas and anywhere in Luzon), Lorenzana said.

The Defense Chief also said that medics from the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) are set to undergo training next week for their participation in the roll out of mass vaccination especially in the province. MNP (with inputs from Rosalie Coz)

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