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'Dropping the ball'

Duque admits it took him three weeks to sign Pfizer deal after receiving green light from Malacañang

By PhilSTAR L!fe Published Dec 17, 2020 4:59 am Updated Dec 17, 2020 5:00 am

Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said it took him three weeks to sign an agreement with Pfizer after getting clearance from Malacanang to proceed with the deal that would have supposedly cleared the way for the Philippines to secure an early dose of the Pfizer vaccine by next year.

In an interview over the ABS-CBN News Channel, Duque detailed the negotiation timeline that started on June 24 when the US pharmaceutical company Pfizer sent an overview of their candidate vaccines to the DOH.

May provisions na a bit one-sided but iniisip ko na dahil kailangan natin yung bakuna, I signed it on October 20 so it’s about three weeks from the time the advisory came.

On June 29, however, Duque said he forwarded the proposal to the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) Philippine Council for Health Research and Development as he said they are "the lead agency in the management of vaccine development for COVID-19 response."

From June to Sept, the DOH, the office of the Executive Secretary, and the DOST had a number of meetings with Pfizer to negotiate the Confidentiality Disclosure Agreement (CDA).

"May iteration yan eh, back and forth, back and forth kasi gusto natin ito yung provision hindi one-sided," Duque said in the ANC interview. "Hindi ito simple na para ka lang gumawa ng dokumento na aangkat ka ng gamot na dati mong ginagamit. Bago po ito eh!"

On Sept. 24, after passing the ball to the DOST as the supposed signatory for the CDA, Duque said he received an email from Pfizer telling him that they were advised by the Office of the Executive Secretary that the signatory for the deal should in fact be the DOH.

It was in fact at the office of Sec Duque, this is where the whole issue of dropping the ball came about.

On Sept. 25, Duque said they had "an alignment meeting" with Pfizer.

After three weeks, Duque said he signed the CDA on Oct. 20.

"May provisions na a bit one-sided but iniisip ko na dahil kailangan natin yung bakuna, I signed it on October 20 so it’s about three weeks from the time the advisory came from the office of the executive secretary designating the DOH as the official signatory," said Duque.

Duque's clarification came after Foreign Affairs Secretary Teddy Locsin Jr. said in a tweet that "somebody dropped the ball" in the negotiations with Pfizer.

In an interview over GMA-7, Philippine Ambassador to the United States Jose Manuel “Babe” Romualdez confirmed there was indeed a delay in the talks on the part of the Philippine government.

“It took time for us to respond so I called up Sec Medialdea if they could help us get that done,” Romualdez said.

“It was in fact at the office of Sec Duque, this is where the whole issue of dropping the ball came about, the time for us to be able to get it earlier like Canada, Bahrain or Singapore and others was gone because we needed to act quickly.”

Senator Panfilo Lacson likewise blamed Duque in a message to reporters.

President Duterte has also ordered Duque to answer allegations that he “dropped the ball” in negotiations with Pfizer.

“They could have secured the delivery of 10 million Pfizer vaccines as early as January next year way ahead of Singapore but for the indifference of Sec. Duque who failed to work on the necessary documentary requirement namely, the Confidentiality Disclosure Agreement (CDA) as he should have done,” Lacson said.

Duque has also denied “dropping the ball” in the negotiations in a media forum, saying he only wanted to ensure that the provisions of the deal are fair to the Philippines.

Today Dec. 17., Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque President Duterte has also ordered Duque to answer allegations that he “dropped the ball” in negotiations with Pfizer.

Duque is no stranger to controversy. At the height of the pandemic, 14 senators signed a resolution urging him to step down for his failure of leadership in handling the pandemic. He has also been linked to corruption in PhilHealth, though Duterte later defended Duque in the issue. After being criticized for delays in the release of financial benefits for frontliners who died due to the pandemic, Duque blamed his staff.

(Thumbnail and banner photo from The Philippine Star)