Duterte defends COVID-19 response financing strategy

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President Rodrigo Roa Duterte flashes his signature pose with Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III, Senator Christopher Lawrence Go, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III, and Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana following a meeting at the Malacañang Golf (Malago) Clubhouse in Malacañang Park, Manila on March 22, 2021. KING RODRIGUEZ/ PRESIDENTIAL PHOTO

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, March 22) - President Rodrigo Duterte defended on Monday how the national government finances its COVID-19 response, amid criticisms from some lawmakers.

"If you are afraid of corruption, let your mind go easy because these things are not susceptible to anything. The money is in the hands of the bank and they (the manufacturers) collect...from the bank, hindi sa atin (not from us)," Duterte said during the weekly meeting of the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases.

The President made the remark after Senator Risa Hontiveros sought an audit on the national government's use of funds, particularly for the much-delayed COVID-19 vaccination program.

Duterte emphasized the government pays the COVID-19 vaccines procured through the lending banks, where the money will be coursed through to the vaccine manufacturers.

"Kung maniwala kayo sa kanila, sige bahala na doon na kayo. Kung maniwala kayo sa amin na walang singko sentimos na hinahawakan po namin. It's the bank who will pay, upon our advice na na-deliver na 'yung bakuna. Hindi tayo ang magpunta," said Duterte.

[Translation: If you believe them, then just go join their side. You should believe us that we do not have in our hands even five centavos. It's the bank who will pay, upon our advice that the vaccines were delivered. We will not go to them to pay.]

Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III backed the President's explanation.

"We only withdraw when we pay. Hindi pa due ang payment (The payment is still not due), so we'll keep (the money) in the bank first," said Dominguez.

Dominguez said the national government has allocated ₱82.5 billion for the national pandemic response this year, which covers vaccine procurement, logistics and other supplies, and waste disposal. The amount came from the 2021 national budget, international lending institutions, and official development assistance.

The country's finance chief underscored that this year's fund for the pandemic response is "enough" to vaccinate all Filipino adults in 2021.

Vaccine czar Carlito Galvez Jr. said the national government aims to inoculate around 70 million Filipinos against COVID-19 this year.