Duterte says gov’t cannot assume liability for vaccines procured by private sector

By CNN Philippines Staff

President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday said the national government cannot be held responsible for whatever adverse effects that may occur from COVID-19 vaccines procured by the private sector.

“Ang gusto ng mga manufacturers…ang private sector ang magbili, ang gobyerno ang mag-assume ng liability. ‘Di pwede ‘yung ganun. May ano diyan, may malaking butas diyan, actually,” Duterte said in a televised meeting with government officials handling the country’s COVID-19 response.

[Translation: What the manufacturers want is for the government to assume liability for vaccines bought by the private sector. But it’s not possible. There’s a huge flaw in that, actually.]

The President said even if they wanted to give businesses that freedom, he does not think such a provision would be legal. He argued that only Congress has that legislative power.

In a separate briefing, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said Duterte’s remark must not be taken in the wrong context, as the government cannot really be liable if serious side effects were seen due to “willful neglect and gross negligence.”

“Nakasaad po sa batas natin na bagamat gobyerno ang magbabayad sa [severe] side effects, may exceptions po rito — kung nagkaroon ng willful neglect or gross negligence,” Roque said.

[Translation: It is stated in the law that the government cannot pay for indemnity because of willful neglect or gross negligence.]

Less than a month ago, the President signed the COVID-19 Vaccination Program Act of 2021, which allocates ₱500 million for the indemnification fund to compensate vaccinees who may experience serious side effects or die after inoculation.

The bill he signed in February also offers COVID-19 vaccine manufacturers immunity from lawsuits for claims arising from the inoculation.

Duterte argued the government loses control over the handling of the vaccines once they allow the private sector to take over. He added that the government will not have oversight if the delicate vaccines are mishandled.

“When you assume a liability, you incur something which is beyond your control in the first place,” he explained. “Sila ang mag-transport [They will be transporting the vaccines]. Eh kung masira ‘yan, apektado [What if problems arise, then the vaccines are affected], mishandling, whatever, there’s a host of reasons there.”

Vaccine czar Carlito Galvez Jr. reiterated that private sectors and the local government units can only procure their own vaccines for their employees and constituents, respectively, if they enter into a tripartite agreement with the government. He pointed out that some manufacturers will only agree to sell vaccines to the private sector if there is such a provision in the supply deal.

“Nanghihingi po sila ng indemnification in case magkaroon po ng adverse effect,” Galvez said. “‘Yung responsibility po na ‘yun, hindi po natin pwedeng mai-delegate sa private sector or sa LGU (local government unit).”

[Translation: They’re requiring indemnification in case there are adverse effects. We cannot delegate that responsibility to the private sector or the LGUs.]

Food and Drug Administration Director General Eric Domingo previously said a tripartite deal is necessary because vaccine manufacturers require that indemnification be covered by the national government before finalizing any procurement deals with any other sector.

It is not yet clear how this will affect already signed supply agreements involving the private sector and local government units. Galvez said around 40 million vaccine doses have so far been purchased under tripartite deals with the national government.

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