EXPLAINER: Cebu City to buy P500M Covid vaccines; no specifics yet on purchase, priorities. 2021 budget may pass with some cuts.

Pachico A. Seares
·4 min read

THE COVID VACCINES. The Cebu City Government will buy anti-Covid-19 vaccines, allotting P500 million for the initial purchase.

Mayor Edgardo Labella promised last August 5 to buy the vaccines "once they are available." Last Tuesday, December 15, he said the money is authorized under the city's investment plan and will be covered by a supplemental budget in January.

That outlay will pass. Neither the opposition BOPK nor Vice Mayor Mike Rama, who has encouraged and led a "fiscalization, no-rubber-stamp" stance in the City Council, has expressed opposition to the purchase. A councilor even asked, where's the appropriation for vaccines?

THE LONG WAIT. To Filipinos anxious to get their inoculation shot, amid the news that in United Kingdom and the US, the vaccines are already being distributed and administered, the waiting could be longer than they thought. No inoculation yet in December or even January and February. Maybe in March, basing on "Vaccine Czar" retired general Carlito Galvez Jr.'s Vaccine Plan.

Per Galvez's road map, this December is within the period for studying and reviewing the vaccines available and for clinical trials and approval by the cluster's panel of experts. January to March: for procurement, shipment, distribution and deployment.

And Cebu City Hall needs to wait for the guidelines from the national task force, particularly the Vaccine Cluster under it. Any contract would involve three parties: the city, the supplier and the national government.

PRIORITIES. Galvez's promise to Cebu City -- announced by Mayor Labella with the permission of the vaccine chief who is also chief implementer at the IATF -- was a sparse, single sentence: "Cebu City will have a priority."

To the mayor, it must be high up in the ladder of priorities as, Labella said, he had goose bumps ("nanindog akong balhibo").

With no specifics however, many city residents might not share his excitement yet. They still don't know which vaccine (the pricey Pfizer/BioNTech or the much cheaper AstraZeneca) will come although the Philippines was to sign last November 26 a contract for two million doses of AstraZeneca Plc.

Or when the vaccines will come, and when they do, who will get the shots first? There would be a scramble for the initial two million doses.

That has brought attention and interest to the list. A Cebu City public information office feature purportedly enumerates the people who will get vaccinated first. As Mayor Labella said, the guidelines still had to come.

And Galvez in his marching order is only to get the consensus on priority beneficiaries; he does not decide alone.

Despite President Rodrigo Duterte's "distrust" of local officials, Galvez had said LGUs cannot be kept away, especially in identifying who will get the vaccines in the first shipment.

AS TO THE CONTROVERSIAL BUDGET for next year, it would pass but it is not certain how would it look after passing through the City Council wringer. VM Rama, who has been hyping up the posture of a "unified and independent legislature," indicated Wednesday, December 16, the councilors would approve the 2021 budget.

Earlier, Mike Rama had said he wouldn't want a reenacted budget for next year (the 2020 budget recycled). In Wednesday's session, he told Councilor Raymond Garcia, chairman of the committee on budget and finance, who presided the budget hearing, that the VM and the mayor had a talk the day before on a number of issues, which must have been resolved as he indicated the budget would be passed on or before December 23, its last session day for the year.

At the December 15 press-con, Mayor Labella said he would expect and hope that the councilors were being "objective." The following day, VM Rama didn't dash Labella's optimism, saying he wouldn't make the budget impair the mayor's work. (Actually, he said in typical Mike Rama prose, "We will not have a budget that will make the mayor not handle the city in the manner that he wants.")

UNCERTAIN ELEMENTS. How would the city's 2021 budget look if it survives the City Council review? It would depend:

[1] If Rama and his band of "fiscalizers and no-rubber-stamps" have found satisfactory the mayor's liquidation of the P3.5-billion lump sum outlays for Covid response, or they have not, but decided to let it go.

[2] If the lawmakers would insist that the budget be "pandemic-purposed" and must address flooding, social concerns and food production, and public safety and order.

Slashes have been proposed, notably by Councilors Noel Archival, Alvin Dizon and Leah Japson (all BOPK) to department heads on such items as seminars, travels and public events and the like. Check out if they're still intact in the final version.

Top indicators of City Council sentiment would be (a) the size of the cuts on the P10.8 billion total and (b) whether proceeds from the sale of South Road Properties lots are used for the budget, funds that Mike Rama would not want touched unless used to pay for the SRP loan.