COVID-19

DOT says Nayong Pilipino chose mega vaccine site, ‘no trees affected’

Aika Rey
DOT says Nayong Pilipino chose mega vaccine site, ‘no trees affected’

PLANNED HUB. The Palafox team's design plan for the mega vaccination site, as released by the Department of Tourism.

Palafox Architecture Group

The Department of Tourism fires back at the Nayong Pilipino Foundation

The Department of Tourism (DOT) said on Wednesday, May 12, that it was the Nayong Pilipino Foundation (NPF) which chose the site for the planned mega vaccination hub, adding that no trees will be harmed in the construction.

In a strongly worded statement, Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat countered the claim of resigned NPF executive director Lucille Karen Malilong-Isberto that nearly 500 ipil-ipil trees will be cut to make way for the facility in Parañaque City.

“This is false. No trees will be affected,” Puyat said.

“As a matter of fact, it was the NPF who identified the area in the Parañaque property where the facility is to be constructed. The site that was offered by NPF, and accepted by the private sector architects, is the area where there would have minimal impact to the environment. Attorney Isberto was present in one of those meetings last April 17, 2021,” added the tourism chief.

The NPF, a government-owned and controlled corporation under the DOT, has vehemently opposed the vaccination hub on Nayong Pilipino grounds, saying it would “kill the existing ecosystem.” The NPF also raised legal concerns on the use of the property.

On Wednesday, Puyat backed architect and urban planner Felino Palafox Jr. and his team, who were tapped to design the facility.

“[T]he environment is of paramount consideration in the architectural plans. The architectural team has made sure to build the temporary vaccination facility around existing grasslands and trees,” she said.

Puyat also denied Isberto’s claims that details of the planned vaccination hub were not presented to the NPF. The tourism chief said the NPF Board of Trustees, along with Isberto, “met and approved” the request for the use of the property. She added that the NPF technical team and the architects had two meetings.

“The NPF was sufficiently apprised. Minutes of the meetings where the architectural plan of the Palafox team was discussed showed that the NPF officials were present in the discussion, where it was cited that the option that they themselves offered was used [by] the private sector design team,” Puyat said.

‘Approved’ by officials

The tourism chief also denied that only she and Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr, the government’s vaccine czar, support the plan.

The Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) “ratified” the vaccination hub proposal of the DOT through IATF Resolution No. 109 on April 10.

“This approval would not have happened if there were no consensus among the 26 agencies of the government, headed by their respective secretaries, which make up the IATF,” Puyat said.

On Wednesday, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said he supports the vaccine hub. Malacañang has also asked the NPF not to stand in the way of the project.

The planned facility, to be managed by the Department of Health (DOH), is expected to accommodate at least 12,000 people a day for COVID-19 vaccination.

PROPOSED SITE. Aerial view of the Nayong Pilipino complex in Parañaque City on December 18, 2020.
Nayong Pilipino Foundation

Puyat said the tourism department only dealt with tycoon Enrique Razon Jr.’s ICTSI Foundation, funder of the project, to “facilitate the use of the NPF property” as mother agency of the NPF.

She also responded to the claim that there is no timeline as to when the vaccination center would cease operations. The issue was raised by the NPF in a letter to Puyat on March 31.

“The land will not be used for any income-generating purpose, and under the draft MOA (memorandum of agreement) for the use of the property, which will be between DOH and NPF, the use of the NPF property will be time-bound or for one year reckoned from the date of signing of the said agreement,” Puyat said.

“[It] will be exclusively used as a vaccination center within the purview of the government’s national vaccination program.”

Legal, mobility issues

Isberto, in a letter last Thursday, May 6, asked the Office of the Government Corporate Counsel’s opinion on the following:

  • Whether or not the NPF can validly enter into an agreement allowing the temporary use of the property as a mega vaccination facility
  • Whether or not the NPF can, directly or indirectly, allow a private entity to use its property without compensation
  • Whether or not certain conditions must be imposed on the use of the property

Isberto also raised Executive Order No. 615, issued in 2007, which states that the land must be used as a cultural park. She also said in the same letter that President Rodrigo Duterte can issue an executive order that would change the purpose of the property.

“[The President] said, ‘Just follow the law and do the right thing.’ So, we’re just doing that. We want to make sure that all the laws are followed especially in light of the history of [Nayong Pilipino] and all the scandals it was involved in. So, we want strict compliance with all laws,” Isberto was quoted as saying in an ABS-CBN interview.

Aside from environmental concerns, advocacy groups on Wednesday also said it would be difficult for the public to go to the planned facility.

“It will marginalize people and groups who have limited access and mobility options to reach the centralized site,” various groups, including Greenpeace Philippines, Oceana Philippines, and the Move as One Coalition, said in a statement. – Rappler.com

Aika Rey

Aika Rey is a business reporter for Rappler. She covered the Senate of the Philippines before fully diving into numbers and companies. Got tips? Find her on Twitter at @reyaika or shoot her an email at aika.rey@rappler.com.