Seares: Did Cebu City officials drop the ball on Covid vaccines? Mayor Labella trusted IATF's Galvez, was 'still waiting' as other LGUs clinched the deal.

Pachico A. Seares
·4 min read

A NUMBER of Cebuanos have made some noise about Cebu City lagging behind other local governments in the scramble for vaccines against Covid-19.

Mayor Edgardo Labella in his proposed budget for 2021 and Vice Mayor Michael Rama in the City Council review and approval of the appropriation ordinance made sure that it included P400 million for the purchase of vaccines. Rama also wangled the mayor's promise to add P100 million in a supplemental budget.

They were not goofing on their job. Yet the mayor seemed to have fumbled on the next phase of the work, which was the scramble for the vaccines. Early on, our officials must know that two-thirds of the vaccines produced would go to the affluent countries first and the rest of the supply would be fought over by the rest of the world.

Mayor Labella appeared to have trusted the people in Manila a bit more than necessary, without getting a place in the long line for the vaccines.

Still awaiting go-signal

Cebu City's plan to buy vaccines, on top of what the national government would allocate to the city, was unwrapped third quarter last year yet.

The mayor announced the plan on August 5, 2020. Almost four months later, on December 15, Labella said Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr., the country's vaccine czar and chief implementer of the Inter-Agency Task Force for Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-MEID), "assured" him the city would get an ample supply of the vaccines due to the national government. Last Monday, January 11, the mayor said the city was "ready to buy" and was waiting for the IATF rules.

Being ready to buy, alas, is not enough. It is even distressing to Cebuanos who watch other LGUs already waving contracts, awaiting delivery while our city still has to join the queue.

Signed or negotiating

The LGUs with already-signed deals include the cities of Bacolod, Baguio, Caloocan, and Dagupan, all with AstraZeneca.

Mayor Labella still has to tell Cebuanos: (a) why he is still waiting for the IATF rules when Baguio, for one, already signed a multipartite agreement that includes the national task force and DOH; (b) why many other cities have already been coordinating with pharmaceutical companies for access to Pfizer and AstraZeneca.

A list published Wednesday, January 13, said that over 30 provinces and cities have already allocated funds to buy the vaccines and "most of them" have already signed with the British-Swedish pharmaceutical firm AstraZeneca.

That list with AstraZeneca contracts includes: nine from National Capital Region, led by Makati City with one million doses and Manila, 800,000; three from Luzon; two from Visayas -- Iloilo City, 600,000, and Ormoc City, 270,000; and two from Mindanao -- Zamboanga City, 400,000, and Oroquita City, 120,000. Others in the AstraZeneca list but did not discloses the volume of their purchase include Bacolod City and Davao City.

'Playing God'

The vaccines issue has spawned other issues that affect not just local public officials, particularly in Cebu, but also their constituents:

[1] VACCINE OF CHOICE. The nation entrusts to the president and the IATF, central authority and coordinator in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic, the decision on quarantine measures and choosing vaccine to use.

People are puzzled however why and how the Philippines secured 25 million doses of the vaccines from China's Sinovac, the first batch scheduled to be delivered this February. Sinovac's vaccine is generally reputed to be (a) only 50 percent effective, (b) one of the two most expensive in the market and, Senate President Vicente Sotto III asked this week at a committee hearing, (c) still has to apply for EUA or emergency use authorization. Senator Ping Lacson said Sinovac had not yet applied and "yet you concluded a contract with Sinovac for 25 million doses."

[2] 'PLAYING GOD.' Any purchase of vaccine by a local government from the supplier requires the national government to be the third party. A number of senators asked why this is so, why LGUs and private companies are given more room. "Do you want to play God?" asked Senator Franklin Drilon. Maybe not but the rule complicates and delays, as in the case of Cebu City, the rollout of the vaccines.

If that is a requirement, as Mayor Labella was repeatedly told by Manila, why and how have many LGUs gone around it and directly dealt with AstraZeneca? Galvez explained that the national government only signs a "term sheet" to "lock in the logistics so that they can start." It is "a supply agreement to determine the term of payment and delivery, he said." Was Mayor Labella told that? Why was the mayor, as of January 11, still waiting for IATF go-signal?

[3] RIGHT TO REJECT. The citizen's right to reject a vaccine he does not trust is upheld by Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque. But he implied that Filipinos who get the vaccine for free have no choice.

Beggars cannot be choosers? The rejection is itself a form of choice. And wait, this is taxpayers' money, not from the officials who crafted the policy.

Significantly, the pandemic does not take away citizens' right to question and assail government decisions that defy plain good sense.