This is an episode straight out of the Netflix hit series “Stranger Things.”
The Department of Health instead of working to provide vaccines to as many Filipinos as quickly as possible, wants to exclude certain sectors from being inoculated.
Reason: a US-based anti-tobacco NGO gave the government grant money to stop “interacting” with the tobacco industry. Thus tobacco companies and other similar industries are not being allowed by the DOH access to Covid-19 vaccines imported by the government.
“The proposed policy of preventing companies that are deemed to be engaged in activities that are contrary to public health reflects a misappreciation by its proponents of the public health mandate of the DOH during a pandemic,” said Rep. Stella Luz Quimbo.
“It should not preclude milk companies based on its interpretation of EO 51, and neither should it discriminate against the tobacco companies and their employees in particular based on a faulty reading of Joint Memorandum Circular 2010-01,” Quimbo added.
JMC 2010-1 was issued by the Civil Service Commission (CSC) and the DOH in 2010, the same year the DOH received a huge grant from the anti-tobacco NGO Bloomberg Initiative. This was disclosed by Rep. Jericho Jonas Nograles in a public hearing last week on Bloomberg grant money influencing the Philippine Food and Drug Administration in drafting regulations for vapes and heated tobacco products.
It can be recalled that the JMC 2010-01 was issued by Health Sec. Francisco Duque III, then CSC chairman.
“So long as companies are engaged in legitimate business, they must be allowed to participate in the country’s vaccine program and their employees and families should not be unreasonably set apart,” Quimbo said.
“Herd immunity requires a minimum number of inoculated individuals regardless of industry affiliation,” she said.
The DOH proposed AO stated that National Task Force (NTF) Against COVID-19 and the DOH “shall review all request of private entities to procure vaccines to ensure that private entities who will be part of the agreement are not in any way related to the tobacco industry, products covered under EO 51 series of 1986 or the ‘National Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes, Supplement, and Other Related Products’, or other products in conflict with public health.”
It further said that “The DOH, in its review, shall ensure that the tobacco, formula milk, and other industries in conflict with the interest of public health will not be part of this endeavor, pursuant to existing DOH guidelines and issuances.”
Lawmakers are taking the CSC to task on the JMC while Senate President Vicente Sotto III has threatened to slash the DOH budget if it pursues such a policy.
Meanwhile, Sen. Sotto said the DOH AO “is discriminatory! Our people need all the help they can get and yet they are preventing it by that absurd policy?”
“Kung panahon ng budget ngayon, lagot ang DOH na yan sa amin. Marami kami puwedeng gawin. Power of the purse namin. Doon lang ang kaya namin. Nasa executive department ‘yan sana maisip ng pangulo na palpak itong mga bata niya, pigilan niya,” Sotto said.
Sen. Imee Marcos described the exclusion of these industries as “downright evil” and will undermine government COVID-19 vaccination efforts.
“We are about to see a total wipeout of the 50-percent donation of vaccines by these large companies, donations which are stipulated in each tripartite agreement among private entities, vaccine manufacturers, and the government,” Marcos said.
Foreign Affairs Secretary Teddy Boy Locsin earlier posted on his Twitter account his disagreement with the DOH AO.
“It is one thing to discourage smoking or lactose intolerance, and quite another to destroy the livelihood and the lives of people who depend on the tobacco, milk, sugar, and soda companies which pay more taxes than the directors of PhilHealth have stolen,” he said.
“And yet the village idiot is preparing an Administrative Order prohibiting these companies from procuring and donating vaccines to their employees and the government,” he added without naming the official he’s pertaining to.
“The administrative order totally contradicts the ‘shared responsibility’ and collaboration the government has sought from the private sector and other organizations through its Philippine National Deployment and Vaccination Plan for Covid-19,” Marcos said.
For his part, Minority Leader Franklin M. Drilon warned the Department of Health (DOH) that barring several companies from procuring vaccines for their employees is patently “illegal and unauthorized” and can expose them to legal liabilities.
“I am deeply disturbed by this report. If indeed such a draft administrative order exists, that is a clear violation of the COVID-19 Vaccination Act of 2021. Such a policy is discriminatory and morally unacceptable. The DOH does not have the authority to do that,” Drilon said. (AI/TMVN)