Can’t LGUs provide free vaccines without fear of PH gov interfering?

preen lgu vaccine procurement

preen lgu vaccine procurement

With the new year comes the hope that we’d finally be able to get vaccinated against COVID-19. If it weren’t for Health (DOH) Secretary Francisco Duque III’s late submission of documents for acquiring Pfizer vaccines, we might have had our hands on them early this month. Today, we learned that the blunder wasn’t the last of the DOH decisions that might be keeping Filipinos a step farther from being COVID-safe.

Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire addressed questions about the local government units’ (LGUs) procurement of the vaccines in a press briefing where she cited the suspension of operations in testing centers as one of the main reasons for the recorded drop in COVID-19 cases during the holidays. “Ang local governments ay hinihikayat to work with the national government so we can have an effective distribution system,” she said. She added that since the national immunization program is under the mandate of the DOH, she hopes that LGUs would work together with them for proper rollout and monitoring of the vaccines.

Manila Mayor Isko Moreno, Makati Mayor Abby Binay and Pasig Mayor Vico Sotto are among the LGU officials who have announced plans to provide their constituents with vaccines. In an interview with Karen Davila on “Headstart,” Moreno said that the city has allocated P250 million to purchase Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines which it plans to provide for free to Manileños who registered on their online portal, with priority given to medical frontliners and senior citizens.

Sotto told DZMM Teleradyo that Pasig has so far allotted P300 million for the vaccines. He said that should the DOH permit procurement, medical frontliners and senior citizens will also be given priority. “Kung ilan po ang available sa market, kung ilan ang kaya ng budget natin, gagawin po natin. I assure everyone that we will be very transparent with our procurement process once may presyo na, kung ilan [at] anong brand,” he said.

Meanwhile, Binay said that Makati has prepared P1 billion to ensure that all Makatizens will be given free vaccination once they register online. “We will exhaust all means to get the much-needed vaccines early and have all Makatizens vaccinated. The city will also assist companies and businesses that would like to buy vaccines for their employees and workers. We are aiming for 100% vaccination in Makati,” she said.

Physician and columnist Gideon Lasco said in a tweet in response to the news: “Because of the government’s failure to acquire vaccines, LGUs are left to fend for themselves, with rich cities taking the lead. This will create vaccine inequity within the country on top of inequity around the world.” 

While we await details about the national immunization program, it is important to remain critical and to look into whether there are communities that are still neglected in the government’s pandemic response.

There are also a number of netizens who speculate that the DOH has denied  LGUs permission to procure their own vaccines because the national government wants to claim all the credit and recognition for the initiative. The issue brings to mind how LGU officials were threatened with penalties for coming up with solutions that would allow their constituents a level of mobility during the early days of the lockdown, for allegedly disobeying national government policies or directives (despite its slow response). It’s too much to ask so many of us to be sitting ducks in the pandemic, and for local officials to be forced to sit idly by when they can—and want to—do something.

Meanwhile, the Senate has announced in a tweet that Sen. Francis Tolentino’s “Pandemic Handbook for Philippine Local Governments” will soon be available. The book has a foreword by President Duterte. But some netizens found it ridiculous that the national government would be releasing a handbook almost a year after quarantine, and considering how much more efficient and appropriate the response of several LGUs has been.

It should also be pointed out that the Palace’s response to the unauthorized vaccination of Presidential Security Group (PSG) personnel is to defend and praise them, while telling off the Senate for its calls for an inquiry into the acquisition and administration of the vaccine that has yet to get approval from the Food and Drug Administration. Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque, in response to reports on the unauthorized vaccination of 100,000 Chinese POGO (Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators) workers, said that if true, it means 100,000 less possible carriers of COVID-19. Nevermind the clear double standards when it comes to following protocols and receiving vaccinations, right? 

While the reasons for the DOH’s apprehension about the local distribution of vaccines may be valid, the national government’s track record shows that a top-down approach isn’t always the best. Especially in the middle of a time-sensitive pandemic, local solutions are welcome, and being applied on a more limited scale, can offer a quicker response that’s easier to monitor and recalibrate.

The national government is mandated to ensure that all Filipinos are provided their needs, and we must constantly pressure its officials to uphold this. But when it is found to be severely handicapped to do this while being unwilling to heed criticism, it should at the very least stop bureaucracy from getting in the way of good governance. 

 

Art by Jan Cardasto

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