THE tax provisions of a bill allowing local government units (LGUs) to bypass procurement rules in the emergency purchase of vaccines has cleared the House Committee on Ways and Means.

In its Monday session, committee members approved a motion to pass the tax exemption clauses of House Bill (HB) No. 8648 or the proposed Emergency Vaccine Procurement Act of 2021. The overall measure seeks to expedite the vaccine procurement process by LGUs in aid of containing the Philippines’ coronavirus outbreak.

Last week, the House Committee on Appropriations passed the same bill.

The Ways and Means chairman, Albay Representative Jose Ma. Clemente S. Salceda, announced at the meeting, “The motion is hereby approved.”

Apart from the tax exemptions, the measure proposes to allow LGUs to procure vaccines without having to undergo the bidding process outlined in the Government Procurement Reform Act.

Section 6 of HB 8648 details the exemptions as covering taxes and fees normally incurred in “the procurement, importation, storage, transport, distribution, and administration of COVID-19 vaccines by the local government units… provided that the vaccines acquired shall only be used for their residents and constituents and not for commercial distribution.”

Mr. Salceda said the proposed law will cut time for LGUs to deploy vaccines during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The tariff rate for vaccines is actually just 1%. It’s not really about the savings, although the exemption will allow them to buy slightly more vaccines. It’s the amount of processing that the local governments will save from this bill that I think is what matters more,” he said in a separate statement.

The bill was filed by Speaker Lord Allan Jay Q. Velasco last week. He cited the need for rapid procurement of vaccines by LGUs to help bring about the prompt reopening of the economy.

Mr. Velasco said in the bill’s explanatory note that the cost of not having vaccines sooner is “staggering,” adding that based on estimates of the National Economic Development Authority, the imposition of strict lockdown measures such as enhanced community quarantine and modified enhanced community quarantine costs the economy P2.1 billion a day.

“Each day of delay is very costly for the government and leaves many of our vulnerable countrymen exposed to the dangers of this disease,” he said.

The bill requires LGUs to purchase only those vaccines that are registered with the Food and Drug Administration or are covered by an emergency use authorization certificate. — Gillian M. Cortez