Duterte: NPA members can also avail of free COVID-19 vaccine

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(FILE PHOTO)

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, August 3) — President Rodrigo Duterte has said members of the New People's Army could avail of free COVID-19 vaccines once they are available.

During an address late Sunday night, the President said vaccines would be given to members of the New People's Army should they want it.

He said he wanted the NPA to be healthy because his soldiers were "very, very healthy."

"I do not propose that you respond to my policy... Itong mga NPA, if they really want to get their shots free, they can always line up, and I will ask now the military and the police to be forgiving. Pag nakapila sila doon, walang armas just to get the shots, give it to them," he said.

[Translation: I do not propose that you respond to my policy... The NPA, if they really want to get their shots free, they can always line up, and I will ask now the military and the police to be forgiving. If they line up and they are not armed just to get the shots, give it to them.]

The President added, "I want you to stay healthy because my soldiers are very, very healthy. And they should be getting the first shots of the vaccine should we acquire them in due time.

Last week, the government said it was ready to spend ₱20 billion to distribute free COVID-19 vaccines to 20 million people.

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 ₱20 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 ₱20 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.

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, July 31.