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Nationwide round-up (11/26/20)

Ramon M. Lopez
TRADE SECRETARY RAMON M. LOPEZ — PHILSTAR

Trade chief says open to PITC review

TRADE Secretary Ramon M. Lopez on Thursday said he is open to reviewing the functions of his department’s trading arm after a senator pointed out redundancies. “We’re open to that, depende kung ano ang talagang gawing (it depends on what type of) review ng (will be undertaken by the) Senate. We will go with it,” he said in an interview with CNN Philippines. Senator Panfilo M. Lacson on Wednesday callled for a probe of the Philippine International Trading Corporation’s (PITC) functions for potential redundancies. He cited that the Department of Budget and Management has its own procurement service, while other government agencies also procure items through their own Bids and Awards Committees. Senate Minority Leader Franklin M. Drilon has also raised that some P33 billion in taxpayers’ money is “parked” at the PITC, which he said should be returned to the Treasury for use in procuring coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) vaccines. Mr. Lopez has defended that the agency places its funding in escrow until the terms of its transactions are finalized, while budgets from failed auctions return to the Treasury. He said that of the P33 billion with the PITC, around P11 billion has been awarded for delivery while P21 billion is part of ongoing procurement. “What will happen to the equipment procurement requirement of several agencies if they return the balance funds? These were approved budget and must be implemented,” he said in a Viber message to reporters. He added that the funds are not with PITC itself, but with state banks. “We’re willing to undergo itong (this) process of review, but what we’re just seeing is that (the PITC) has its mandate, and it’s performing its mandate.” — Jenina P. Ibanez

Gov’t targets to vaccinate 25M annually for COVID-19

THE government plans to vaccinate at least 25 million Filipinos yearly against the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), with an initial total target of at least 60 million to attain herd immunity. In a briefing on Thursday, Secretary Carlito G. Galvez, Jr., appointed vaccine czar, said the ultimate goal is to administer COVID-19 vaccines to 75% of the country’s 108 million population, or about 81 million people. “We can cover about 25 to 30 million (people) a year as our target,” he said. Mr. Galvez explained that this target takes into consideration the challenges that may be posed by the global supply and demand for the vaccines. Health experts recommend that the target population for the vaccination be covered at the same time to actually create herd immunity. Earlier this week, the Finance secretary announced that the government plans to borrow P73.2 billion to procure vaccines for 60 million Filipinos. — Gillian M. Cortez

Higher infra funds for Velasco-allied congressmen ‘not true,’ says Yap

A LAWMAKER on Thursday denied allegations that allies of House Speaker Lord Alan Q. Velasco received higher infrastructure funds for their congressional districts under the proposed 2021 national budget. It is “not true” that Velasco allies got “noticeable” increases in the budgets of their congressional districts, while those allied with former speaker and Taguig Rep. Alan Peter S. Cayetano got “reduction,” House appropriations committee chair Eric Yap told BusinessWorld on Thursday, referring to the claims previously made by Senator Panfilo M. Lacson. As to whether the House will pursue an investigation into corruption allegations against several congressmen, Mr. Yap said the chamber “needs to finish the budget.” The bicameral committee conference on the proposed P4.5 trillion budget for next year is scheduled to begin on Nov. 28. President Rodrigo R. Duterte earlier said there are corrupt lawmakers but he cannot investigate them as they belong to another branch of government. House Deputy Minority leader Carlos Isagani T. Zarate said such stance by the President only shows “selective justice,” citing that the administration “initiated the investigation against Sen. Leila De Lima and now she’s still under detention.”– Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza