The Philippine Star : Watchdog: Probe pols using vaccination drive

19 July 2021

By Mayen Jaymalin | The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines — Poll watchdog Kontradaya yesterday sought an investigation into reports of “politicization” of the ongoing COVID-19 vaccination program.

Kontradaya convenor Danilo Arao asked the Department of Health and the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) to probe politicians who use the immunization program to advance their political agenda.

“It is necessary for DOH and IATF to investigate the politicization of such events and penalize officials who allowed it to happen,” Arao said.

He also urged the Commission on Elections to publicly call out “underhanded ways” of politicians to promote themselves, saying this is “clearly a case of premature campaigning.”

Comelec, he added, should not be too technical and legalistic in refusing to do something about it.

Arao claimed that some politicians have been posting their tarpaulins in some local vaccination centers. Others reportedly post their names while promoting the vaccination program online.

“Kontra Daya strongly denounces the brazen moves of politicians to hijack official government activities, like vaccinations for their own electoral agenda,” he said.

‘Distribute J&J jabs to hotspots’

Vice President Leni Robredo proposed yesterday the distribution of the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccines to COVID-19 hotspot areas, especially those with recorded Delta variant cases.

The Philippines received late last week 3.2 million doses of Janssen COVID-19 vaccine donated by the US government through the COVAX Facility.

“I hope they will prioritize areas where the Delta variant was detected. Because this is just one dose, meaning you can vaccinate 3.2 million people,” Robredo said in her weekly regular show over dzXL. “Hopefully, areas that are in danger of multiple Delta variant transmission will be given priority.”

She reiterated the need to ramp up vaccination efforts against COVID-19 amid the looming danger of the more infectious Delta variant.

The Vice President also called for support to the sequencing efforts of the Philippine Genome Center to speed up the detection of variants among COVID cases in the country.

She noted that the newly reported Delta variant cases tested positive as far back as April, given the center’s limited capacity.

The Department of Health reported last Friday 16 new Delta variant cases, including 11 local cases. The variant was detected in patients in Metro Manila, Cagayan de Oro, Misamis Oriental, Antique and Pampanga.

Robredo continued to remind the public to observe health standards like wearing of face masks, social distancing and getting vaccinated.

The Vice President noted that the government needs to act faster to prevent the possibility of a surge in COVID cases, as seen in neighboring countries in Southeast Asia where thousands of cases and deaths have been recorded over the past month alone.

Recovery from recession

Meanwhile, Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas Governor Benjamin Diokno revealed yesterday that accelerating the COVID-19 vaccine rollout program, pursuing the government’s structural reforms, and aggressively continuing its massive infrastructure program under Build, Build, Build will boost the country’s recovery from the pandemic-induced recession.

Diokno said in a Viber message to reporters that an enactment of Bayanihan 3 is not the solution to improve the country’s growth prospects and reverse the negative outlook recently assigned by New York-based Fitch Ratings on the Philippines’ credit rating.

“The wisdom of whether the government should legislate Bayanihan 3 now that Bayanihan 2 has lapsed should be decided upon by the executive department and Congress. That is not within the mandate of the BSP. I disagree, however, that legislating Bayanihan 3 will help us improve our ratings prospects after Fitch downgraded the country’s outlook to negative from stable,” he added.

He noted though that these initiatives would immensely improve the country’s growth prospects and its ability to attract foreign direct investments.

According to Diokno, the government’s vaccination program is on the right track, citing the supply of vaccines from various sources arriving in the country, effective administration of the vaccine rollout, strong private sector support and willingness of Filipinos to get vaccinated.

He also said the Philippines’ credit rating story amid the pandemic should be taken in a positive light as Fitch affirmed the country’s BBB credit rating, a notch above the minimum investment grade.

Furthermore, he said previous actions from other credit rating agencies to either affirm or upgrade the country’s credit ratings should be recognized.

“It should be pointed out that in a sea of ratings downgrade globally last year and this year, Fitch has affirmed the Philippines’ investment grade. The major ratings agencies – S&P and Moody’s – have affirmed their ratings and outlook, while the Japan rating agency has upgraded its ratings. That should be seen in a positive light,” Diokno said.

He explained the anticipated higher national budget for 2022 and the enforcement of a Supreme Court ruling that gives local government units a bigger share in the national budget diminish the need for another Bayanihan law.

“The rationale for Bayanihan 3 fades with the submission of next year’s President’s Budget in a month or so. Additionally, as a result of the Supreme Court ruling, more fiscal resources will flow to LGUs starting January 2022, less than half a year from now. LGUs may be in a better position to address the needs of their local constituents who are affected by the pandemic,” Diokno added.

Bayanihan 3 is the proposed third wave of government’s legislated stimulus amounting to P401 billion, including financial assistance to the most vulnerable sectors, following the expiration of Bayanihan 2.

Diokno also said proper enforcement of health protocols will help reduce the expenditure requirement for pandemic response.

“If local officials don’t want to overburden their fiscal position as a result of high incidence of COVID-19 in their community, then they should exert more effort to contain the virus through strict enforcement of health protocol and more aggressive contact tracing. This is what we call ‘incentive compatible.’ Moving forward, I see the likelihood of stricter local lockdowns, if at all, rather than regional lockdowns,” the BSP chief added. – Lawrence Agcaoili