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Duterte tells Duque to answer Locsin allegation on botched Pfizer deal

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has asked Health Secretary Francisco Duque III to respond to the accusation that his failure to sign certain documents bungled a deal to bring millions of Pfizer vaccine doses to the country by January.

Duterte weighed in on the controversy during his meeting on Wednesday night, December 16, with coronavirus task force officials, including Duque.

"Last night, the President told Secretary Duque to answer the allegations by Secretary Locsin," said Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque on Thursday, December 17.

Roque admitted it was he who brought up the issue because he felt the President needed to resolve conflicting statements by his foreign secretary, Teodoro Locsin Jr, and Duque.

Did Duterte take any side?

The President made no conclusion or judgement on who of his Cabinet members were right or wrong, said Roque.

Duterte supposedly did not appear outwardly outraged by Duque during the meeting.

"I think from the overall demeanor of the President, he didn't see any major lapse because we're talking about a contract and he knows Secretary Duque is not a lawyer," said Roque.

The spokesman also said that if the claims against Duque were true "no damage was done" because "we will still get vaccines from Pfizer" which are expected to arrive in the "2nd or 3rd quarter" of 2021.

However, Locsin had said that the supposed deal that he, Philippine Ambassador to the US Jose Romualdez, and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo brokered would have brought in Pfizer vaccine doses as early as January.

Roque claimed further that, even if the deal did exist, it would be "impossible" because richer countries had already reserved Pfizer's January supply.

"Mukha namang imposible talaga makakuha tayo ng Pfizer as of January kasi 'yung January deliverables nila, completely paid for na by the rich countries. So let's not speculate anymore," said the Duterte spokesman, in effect casting doubt on Locsin's claims of a deal.

(It looks like it would be impossible for us to really get Pfizer vaccines as of January because their January deliverables are completely paid for already by the rich countries.)

The meeting on Wednesday ended without any conclusion that "something went wrong with Pfizer," said Roque.

What has DOH or Duque said so far?

Earlier that day, the Department of Health (DOH) countered Locsin's allegation, saying it merely sought to follow systems and protocols on vaccine agreements.

The DOH had worked with Pfizer to iron out "contentious provisions" in their agreement which eventually led to a signing of the Confidential Disclosure Agreement in November. The review process even involved Duterte's office, the Office of the President, said the agency. – Rappler.com

Pia Ranada

Pia Ranada covers the Office of the President and Bangsamoro regional issues for Rappler. While helping out with desk duties, she also watches the environment sector and the local government of Quezon City. For tips or story suggestions, you can reach her at pia.ranada@rappler.com.

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