PH ready to spend ₱20 billion to distribute free COVID-19 vaccines to 20 million people

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, July 31) — The Duterte administration said it has enough funds to purchase and distribute free coronavirus vaccines to 20 million Filipinos once it is available.

President Rodrigo Duterte expressed confidence that a vaccine will be developed by December.

He said it is possible that China will be one of the first countries to complete its research, and claimed the Philippines will get priority access to the vaccines because it is "friendly" to the East Asian giant.

"I promise you by the grace of God, I hope by December we will be back to normal," he said in his taped address which aired on Friday.

Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III, who was tasked by Duterte to take care of the funding, detailed how the Philippines plans to procure 40 million doses of vaccines — estimated to cost P20 billion.

"We have a plan," Dominguez said during the televised meeting. "We can execute it as soon as the Department of Health (DOH) chooses which vaccine or vaccines they want. Certainly, by late this year, if it's available, we can already buy it."

He said the vaccine chosen by the DOH will be bought through the Philippine International Trading Corporation (PITC), which is under the Department of Trade. It will be initially financed by the Land Bank of the Philippines and the Development Bank of the Philippines, then paid off by the DOH.

"The Department of Health will put in their budget to pay this $400 million or roughly P20 billion. We can pay that over maybe two

or three years. Babayaran nila (they will pay) through the financing company, which is Landbank and DBP," he said.

The finance chief added, "That is totally available, the financing is available for this program."

Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez, in a separate briefing, assured the Philippines does need to sell state assets to fund the vaccine purchase.

Dominguez also said that once the vaccine is readily available in the Philippines, the country's economy will finally recover — especially after hitting the "lowest part" in April and May.

"Once the vaccine is available, I'm sure the economy now can be fully opened and we can start — not the new normal — but the normal life," he said.

The President wants to prioritize the poor families in the initial distribution of vaccines, with the military in charge of handing them out.

Meanwhile, Manila Mayor Isko Moreno said that the local government will allocate P200 million in its budget for next year to procure vaccines once available.

“In preparation for the end game of this crisis, I have asked VM Honey Lacuna and the City Council, to appropriate P200 million sa [in the] 2021 budget na gagamitin bilang pambili ng COVID-19 vaccine [that will be used to procure the COVID-19 vaccine],” said Moreno in an online post.

To date, the coronavirus disease has hit more than 93,000 people in the country. Of this number, some 26,000 are active cases or currently ill patients, after around 65,000 recovered and nearly 2,000 died.