Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto suggested allotting up to P150 billion in the 2021 national budget to cover the cost of COVID-19 vaccines and the logistics of the “herculean task” of inoculating at least 50 million Filipinos.
Procuring vaccines for the more vulnerable half of the national population is costly enough, but the cold chain required to maintain the vaccines’ efficacy will likely be even more expensive, Recto said during the Senate’s plenary debates on the 2021 budget bill on Monday, November 16.
Pharmaceutical companies with candidate COVID-18 vaccines in advanced stages of testing have said the products need to be stored at minus-75 degrees Celsius until they are administered, or else they will lose their efficacy.
“Think about it, ha? Hindi biro ‘yang logistics na ‘yan, ha (Those logistics are no joke, alright)?” Recto said.
The proposed 2021 national budget, outlined in the General Appropriations Bill (GAB), allots P18 billion for COVID-19 vaccines. The Bayanihan to Recover as One Act (Bayanihan 2) allots another P10 billion, bringing the total allotment for COVID-19 vaccines to P28 billion. However, only P8 billion of that amount, placed under the Department of Health’s 2021 budget under the Gab, has actual funds programmed for it. The other P20 billion are unprogrammed – awaiting government revenues.
These amounts only cover the purchase of COVID-19 vaccines, and do not yet factor in the cost of cold chain management and other logistics, Recto noted.
The senator said the 2021 budget should prioritize public health, especially inoculation against COVID-19. Economic recovery, including hitting the government’s 6.5% GDP growth target, would follow.
“We will have a better chance of hitting their 6.5% or more if we appropriate and execute properly the inoculation of our population with P100 billion to P150 billion more in the budget for the cost of the vaccines and the logistics,” Recto said.
To administer COVID-19 vaccines to 50 million Filipinos would require inoculating 150,000 people every day for a year – a mammoth task, Recto pointed out.
He said he worries that if the 2021 budget does not allot enough funds for COVID-19 vaccination, the Executive might end up asking Congress midstream for additional appropriations.
“All I’m saying is we should do our job as well. Provide the funding. Put it in the budget,” Recto said.
Never mind if the government has to borrow money for this, he added. The Philippines’ economic recovery ultimately depends on whether its people can beat and keep the coronavirus at bay, and the best way is through vaccination, he explained.
Last Friday, November 13, Recto filed a bill extending the effectivity of Bayanihan 2 until March 27, 2021. The measure is set to expire on December 19, 2020. In the bill’s explanatory note, Recto lamented delays in the government’s spending. He echoed this during Monday’s plenary session.
“Hindi problema ‘yung cash eh. Ang problema, mabagal ‘yung spending (Cash is not the problem. The problem is slow spending),” Recto said.
The impetus for socioeconomic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic’s adverse effects would ultimately come from the government, he added.
“My worry is that we might be spending too little,” he said.
Recto suggested passing the GAB on 2nd and 3rd reading by the end of the week, and then draft a supplemental budget, if necessary, to fully set the country up for 2021.
Recto has been raising concern over the massive logistical challenge of inoculating the population against COVID-19.
In late October, he suggested the appointment of a “vaccine czar.” After the appointment of anti-COVID plan chief implementer Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr as vaccine czar, Recto called for the formation of a team of experts to assist him. – Rappler.com