MANILA, Philippines – Vice presidential bet Senator Vicente “Tito” Sotto III said that the Philippines should be locally manufacturing COVID-19 vaccines and personal protective equipment (PPE) to prepare the country for future health crises.
Sotto made this pitch during a debate organized by the Commission on Elections (Comelec) on Sunday, March 20, which was attended by seven of the nine presidential aspirants. Buhay Representative Lito Atienza is recovering from surgery while Davao Mayor Sara Duterte, who leads preference surveys, had said that she would not join any debate for her campaign.
The candidates were asked this question: “Paano niyo po i-a-assess ang COVID-19 response ng gobyerno? At kung sakaling may nakita kayong kakulangan, paano ‘nyo po ito masusuportahan bilang bise presidente?”
(How would you assess the government’s COVID-19 response? And if ever you see deficiency, how would you support the government’s response as vice president?)
“Dapat tayo na ang nagma-manufacture ng bakuna, ng PPEs, mga syringes, mga needles, pati cotton para matigil na yung importation. ‘Yun ang dapat asikasuhin ng gobyerno na tayo na nagpo-produce nitong mga ito,” he said.
(We should be manufacturing our own vaccines, PPE, syringes, needles, and even cotton so we could stop importation. The government should be prioritizing how we could locally produce these products.)
The Philippine government is one of the signatories of the Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) waiver, a proposal to halt intellectual property protection for products and technologies used in the fight against COVID-19, including vaccines, for the duration of the pandemic.
As for local manufacturing of PPE sets, senators during a hearing in September 2021 over irregularities in pandemic procurement accused the government of sidelining Philippine producers of PPE in favor of companies that brought in pricier supplies. The move not only caused Filipino workers to lose jobs, but also resulted in the mismanagement of billions in public funds, they said. (READ: ‘Betrayal’ of Filipinos: Senators bare cost of gov’t preference for PPE imports)
Free COVID-19 testing
Opposition candidate Senator Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan said that when another surge of infections happens, the government should strengthen basic pandemic response – testing, tracing, and isolation.
“Dahil nga pag nakaroon ng surge, hahanapan na naman natin ng testing. At dapat ang testing, libre na. Hindi na dapat ito ginagastusan pa dahil pagka-libre, eh, talagang lahat magpapa-test. ‘Yan ang problema, libre sa mga, halimbawa, meron ng sintomas. Dapat libre lahat ‘yan,” he said.
(Because when a surge happens, people will again look for testing. And testing should be free. It should be free to all so everyone who likes to be tested will get tested. Because the problem is it’s only free for those who have symptoms. It should be free to all.)
Experts have been saying that putting areas on lockdown alone won’t curb the virus transmission as this has to be paired with mass testing, effective contact tracing, and immediate isolation. The government has repeatedly rejected calls for mass testing, saying that it wasn’t a “rational thing to do.”
Both Sotto and Pangilinan said that the government should boost its support for health workers by releasing allowance on time and giving them better compensation. (READ: Overworked, underpaid health workers are walking away as Delta ravages PH)
For economist Manny Lopez, the government should address first the specific issues of pandemic management, which should be “devoid of commercialization, of profit maximization, including politics.”
“I think the general structure that we should follow is one, we have to develop our public health care system, we have to have more doctors, provide more scholarships. We have to build more hospitals. In that way, we could improve our pandemic response,” he said.
Meanwhile, physician Willie Ong pitched for the creation of an infectious diseases hospital to avoid crowding in the Philippine General Hospital, the country’s main hospital for COVID-19 while also catering to other diseases.
Aside from Sotto, Pangilinan, Lopez, and Ong, the Comelec’s vice presidential debate was also attended by Rizalito David, Carlos Serapio, and Walden Bello. – Rappler.com