A health worker prepares a syringe during a coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) vaccine rollout simulation at The Medical City in Pasig City, Feb. 18. — PHILIPPINE STAR/ MICHAEL VARCAS

THE Department of Finance (DoF) on Thursday said imports of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) vaccines will be exempted from taxes and duties, as the government is set to take delivery of the first batch of vaccines on Sunday.

Finance Secretary Carlos G. Dominguez III in a statement said the importation of COVID-19 vaccines will be included in the department’s express lane or “Mabuhay Lane” where the tax and duty exemption applications will be processed within 24 hours.

This would be faster than the current processing time of three days, he added.

Mr. Dominguez said the department is also waiving the filing fees for COVID-19 vaccine applications with the Mabuhay Lane, and allowed the use of the Tax Exemption System Online Filing Module to fast-track the rollout of the vaccination program.

The tax exemption policies will be included in guidelines on the implementation of a One-Stop Shop for International Donations and Government-procured COVID-19 vaccines that is currently being drafted by the Departments of Finance, Health and Foreign Affairs, Bureau of Customs and the Food and Drug Administration.

Finance Assistant Secretary Maria Teresa S. Habitan told BusinessWorld the tax perks will result in around P14 billion in foregone revenues from value-added tax (VAT), based on 75 million doses of vaccines priced at P1,545 each.

Importers applying for the Mabuhay Lane perks would have to pay a filing fee of at least P200 for imports worth at least P100,000 and up to P1,000 for imports valued at more than P1 million.

Finance Undersecretary Antonette C. Tionko, head of the Revenue Operations Group, recommended the inclusion of COVID-19 vaccine imports in the Mabuhay Lane, “regardless of the applicable legal basis… to allow for the expedited processing of the tax and exemption of such applications.”

The Finance secretary is allowed to include more sectors that may be processed at the Mabuhay Lane under a Department Order No. 54-2000, issued in December 2000.

“We add that the Mabuhay Lane currently processes all Relief Consignment under Section 120 in relation to 121 of the Customs Modernization and Tariff Act (CMTA). The Lane is expected to process all COVID-19 vaccines which may qualify as relief consignment,” she said, referring to goods donated to the government.

Under CMTA’s Section 121, relief consignment imported during a state of calamity and intended for the use of calamity victims will be exempted from the payment of duties and taxes.

Presidential Spokesperson Herminio “Harry” L. Roque, Jr. on Thursday said 600,000 doses of Sinovac Biotech’s vaccines will arrive on Sunday, paving the way for the rollout of the government’s vaccination program the next day (Read related story  “COVID-19 vaccination drive may start next week”).

The Philippines is the last country in Southeast Asia to take initial delivery of COVID-19 vaccines, even as it has the second-highest number of cases.

Economists warned that the slow vaccine rollout and continued quarantine restrictions will hurt the Philippines’ recovery this year.

President Rodrigo R. Duterte on Monday rejected the proposal of the economic team to ease further the lockdown restrictions until the vaccination program starts.

In light of this, Acting Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Kendrick Karl T. Chua said the Development Budget Coordination Committee will be reviewing its current economic forecasts and targets.   

The government aims to grow by 6.5-7.5% this year from last year’s 9.5% contraction which was the worst on record. — Beatrice M. Laforga