Entry of bivalent vaccines into PHL continues to be delayed; SC asked to hasten ruling on COVID-vulnerable prisoners  

THE ARRIVAL of the Philippinesfirst batch of COVID-19 bivalent vaccines, which have been donated by a still undisclosed country, will once again face a delay, according to the Department of Health (DoH), citing permit issues. 

“As per the DoH — Bureau of International Health Cooperation, there shall be a slight delay in the arrival of the bivalent vaccines as there are permits that are still needed to be coordinated,” DoH told reporters in a document that provided replies to journalistsquestions.  

“Rest assured that the DoH is exhausting all efforts to receive the vaccines by the end of the month.”  

Last week, the agency said about 391,000 donated bivalent doses, which target both the original COVID-19 strain and its Omicron subvariants, were expected to arrive in the country this week.   

Thedeliveryhasfacedseveraldelaysafterastateofcalamitydeclarationdue toCOVID-19 — whichsetguidelinesonindemnificationandimmunityfrom liabilityrequiredbyvaccinemakers — expiredonDec.31.  

Almost a month after the Health department reported in January that the delivery process had hit a “roadblockdue to the state of calamitys expiration, the agency made an announcement in late February that donated vaccines would arrive by end-March.   

In mid-May, the DoH said that the 391,000 bivalent doses will be arriving hopefully by next week.  

As of March 20, a total of 4,377,164 Filipinos have gotten their second booster shot, the agency said.  

The DoH had opposed a proposal by the private sector for them to be allowed to buy bivalent vaccines, saying it could worsen vaccine wastage in the country.   

Meanwhile, a human rights group on Tuesday asked the Supreme Court (SC) to fast-track its decision on its plea to a Writ of Kalayaan, which could be used to release prisoners who are vulnerable to coronavirus. 

In a letter to Chief Justice Alexander G. Gesmundo, Kapatid urged the High Court to have consultative discussions with human rights groups and other stakeholders to set up rules for establishing the new legal remedy.  

“Gerardo Dela Peñas abject condition exemplifies why the SC Writ of Kalayaan should at the soonest be institutionalized to protect persons deprived of liberty whose right to life, right to health, and the right against cruel, degrading or inhuman punishment is violated not only by substandard prison conditions but also by snail-paced bureaucratic procedures,” Kapatid convenor Fides M. Lim said.  

He was referring to the case of an 83-year-old political prisoner, the oldest in the country.  

In 2021, the group filed a petition for the court to develop rules for the proposed legal remedy that seeks to bolster the protection of human rights for prisoners.  

Kapatid said it had submitted names of elderly and sick political prisoners, but the Department of Justice has yet to free any of them despite the recent mass releases of elderly prisoners.  

The SC committee on human rights in December recommended the approval of the Writ of Kalayaan, which would supplement existing remedies such as the writ of amparo, habeas data and habeas corpus.  

Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin C. Remulla earlier told the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Council that the government aims to release 5,000 inmates by June. He said in March that the government had released 4,124 prisoners since he took office on July 1 last year.  

Many of the countrys jails fail to meet the UNs minimum standards given inadequate food, poor nutrition and unsanitary conditions, according to Human Rights Watch.  

“Mr. Chief Justice, let’s bring him [Mr. Dela Peña] home alive,” Ms. Lim said. Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza and John Victor D. Ordoñez