MANILA, Philippines — Local government units (LGUs) should have the authority to choose their own COVID vaccine brands based on their constituents’ preference and financial capabilities, according to the League of Cities of the Philippines (LCP).
LCP national president and Bacolod City Mayor Bing Leonardia said LGUs should choose the vaccines that they want to procure for their residents even as it is the national government that heads the national vaccination program.
“It has to be a process of allocation, wherein we feel the distribution of the vaccines according to the preferences and capabilities of financing of the LGUs. That has to be considered,” Leonardia said during an interview Monday with OneNews’ “The Chiefs” aired on Cignal TV.
The LCP is coordinating with at least eight pharmaceutical firms to determine the specifications and facilities needed as well as the efficacy of each COVID vaccine.
The Department of the Interior and Local Government said LGUs with limited funds would still get COVID vaccines for their constituents, according to DILG spokesman Undersecretary Jonathan Malaya.
The government is procuring 25 million doses of China’s Sinovac vaccine, with the initial batches arriving next month.
Malaya said the government aims to vaccinate 50 million to 70 million Filipinos, depending on the global supply of vaccines.
Some highly urbanized cities in Metro Manila and several provinces have started ordering vaccines from pharmaceutical companies like AstraZeneca.
Malaya said the vaccination could start by February and if supply is limited, the government will prioritize 50,000 health care workers.
Leonardia said they need a “clearer plan” on how the massive vaccination program would be rolled out, noting it would be about teamwork between the national government and LGUs.
He said some cities and even municipalities would need more help from the government as some LGUs, mostly highly urbanized cities, have committed their own funds for the LGU-initiated vaccine procurement.
“This is about teamwork. We have to share the task with the national government, we hope that it will work both ways as cities are not created equal,” he said.
Leonardia admitted that some LGUs may be racing to get their shares of the vaccines first.
“I must admit there is somehow pauna-una or something like that. But in the end it will be the national government that will do the trafficking, coordinating and rationing of the vaccines,” he said.
The LCP was set to convene in an online assembly to discuss the government’s vaccination plan.
“It will be a process of negotiation, but if we negotiate as a league instead of cities, I believe we can be able to get the kind of arrangement that is best suited for each individual circumstance of the city,” he added.
Baguio City Mayor Benjamin Magalong said all LGUs should initiate and be aggressive in procuring vaccines for their constituents.
“We at the LGUs are not ‘sakim (greedy).’ We adhere to the strong advocacy of equal distribution. But LGUs should take the initiative while the national goverment is doing its best to acquire and secure the vaccines,” Magalong said.
Meanwhile, peasant group Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) commended the LGUs that laid out concrete plans for the localized vaccination program.
The group urged the government to keep up and present a comprehensive national COVID-19 vaccination program for all Filipinos.
“Along with this, a science-based, massive information drive on the importance of vaccination must be initiated to allay public fear and apprehension on getting COVID-19 shots,” KMP chair Danilo Ramos said.
The group said that apprehensions with the government’s vaccine procurement plan started with the Department of Health’s shady handling of the Pfizer deal.
While at least 61 cities are ready to spend P10 billion for the vaccines of their constituents, the KMP said that free COVID vaccines should reach the remote areas in the provinces that are also at risk of COVID infections.
Vaccine czar Carlito Galvez Jr. admitted that the government is poised to purchase a total of 100 million doses of COVID vaccine for 2021, with the first batch of vaccines arriving in February.
“We expect the roll-out of free COVID-19 mass vaccination for Filipinos, with the assurance of safety, efficacy and accessibility,” Ramos said.
Fishers’ group Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya) also called for “free and massive vaccination.”
“With consideration to the efficacy and safety of the vaccines being developed by established pharmaceutical companies, we demand that a significant segment of the working population be inoculated as a long-term solution to the pandemic,” Fernando Hicap, Pamalakaya national chairman, said.
The Department of Budget and Management (DBM) has allocated P13.59 billion in financial assistance this year for LGUs’ priority programs and COVID-19 response efforts.
Budget Secretary Wendel Avisado issued Local Budget Circular 131 on Jan. 8, laying out the guidelines for the release and utilization of the P13.59 billion to LGUs as provided under the 2021 General Appropriations Act.
“The P13.59 billion should be used for the financial assistance of LGUs, except those under the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao,” the circular stated.
The fund may be used for the construction, rehabilitation, repair or improvement of roads and bridges, public markets, slaughterhouses, multi-purpose buildings, pavements, drainage canals, sea or river wall, water system projects, evacuation centers, public parks, fish ports and post-harvest facilities.
It may also be used for the purchase of ambulance, trucks, mini dump trucks, vehicles and multicabs; barangay electrification; purchase of medical equipment; financial assistance for health and sports programs; education, health and social protection projects in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, and assistance to indigent individuals.
Priority will be given to infrastructure projects that are consistent with the Build, Build, Build program of the national government.
The circular stated that the fund may not be used for purposes other than the identified programs or projects for which it was released without the prior evaluation and approval of the DBM.
It cannot be used to fund projects that are fully covered by other sources of funds, nor for the payment of personnel services expenditures.
LGUs should submit their requests together with the documentary requirements on or before June 30 to the DBM regional office or the DBM central office for evaluation.
Local governments that have been receiving funding support from 2016 to 2020 should submit a report on fund utilization and status of project implementation. – Emmanuel Tupas, Rhodina Villanueva, Mary Grace Padin