President Rodrigo Duterte instructed vaccine czar Carlito Galvez Jr. to “stand up and leave” the Senate hearings on the government’s COVID-19 vaccination program should senators become “verbally abusive,” presidential spokesman Harry Roque said.
Roque said the President also told Galvez to attend the Senate hearing after the vaccine czar complained that he has lost about two weeks worth of negotiations with drug suppliers because of the hearings.
In an interview over CNN Philippines, Roque said that Galvez told Duterte that he no longer wanted to join the probe but the President instructed him to attend, saying he could leave the hearing if he feels being verbally abused.
“‘If they become abusive to you verbally, just stand up and leave. And if they cite you in contempt, I will come and fetch you,'” Duterte told Galvez, Roque said.
The Palace official said the President was disgusted over the “war-like” demeanor of senators during hearings on the vaccines.
“The President could not understand why the demeanor of some senators was apparently bellicose-like, they were war-like. Of course, there was already an attitude as if there was corruption going on when there was fact-finding, in fact,” Roque said.
“The President thought, despite the separation of powers, despite the power of oversight, it does not give the senators the license to be abusive,” he said.
Senate President Vicente Sotto III bristled at Roque’s statements, challenging him to tell him “when, and who was war-like” and if any of the senators had shouted at the resource persons.
“Imbento (Made up),” Sotto said about Roque’s remarks.
The Senate Committee of the Whole is scheduled to resume its public hearings into the government’s COVID-19 vaccination plan on Friday, Jan. 22.
Senator Panfilo Lacson, in a privilege speech delivered Monday, proposed the holding of an executive session with Galvez to discuss the cost of COVID-19 vaccines.
Apart from an executive session, Galvez and Duque are also expected to have an informal meeting with the senators, Roque said.
On Tuesday, Senator Christopher Lawrence Go said Duterte had already directed Galvez to disclose to Senate President Vicente Sotto III the details of the vaccine deals for the sake of transparency.
The national government has earmarked P82.5 billion for the procurement of COVID-19 vaccines.
It has also signed term sheet agreements with pharmaceutical firms Novovax, Moderna, and AstraZeneca to supply the Philippines with 30 million doses, 20 million doses, and 17 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine, respectively.
The Philippines initially secured around 25 million doses of Sinovac vaccine, with the first 50,000 doses expected to arrive in February.
A House leader on Wednesday said the government cannot invoke its non-disclosure agreements with pharmaceutical firms in depriving the public of the details in the procurement of COVID-19 vaccines.
Ako-Bicol Rep. Alfredo Garbin Jr made the statement in response to Galvez's statement that the country could lose the opportunity to buy 148 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines if the prices of these vaccines are disclosed at this point, citing existing confidentiality disclosure agreements (CDA) with vaccine markers.
Garbin, chairman of the House committee on constitutional amendments, said the matter involves national interest and public funds.
Garbin said the funding for the COVID-19 vaccination program will still be paid through public taxes even if the bulk of the amount will come from loans.
“We cannot invoke the non-disclosure agreement between the government and the pharmaceutical companies. And that right of public information is always guaranteed by the Constitution, and this should prevail at all times," he said.