The Presidential Security Group (PSG) did not violate the anti-graft law when it had received unauthorized COVID-19 vaccines which are purportedly donated since these were only “tokens” without “much value,” Malacañang said Tuesday.
In his televised briefing, presidential spokesman Harry Roque downplayed the inoculation of President Rodrigo Duterte’s security detail amid questions as to how vaccines entered the Philippines without the state regulatory board’s approval.
Republic Act 3019 or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act states that government officials and employees are barred from receiving gifts “directly or indirectly” from private persons or entities.
Roque, however, argued that the donated vaccines can be considered as “tokens” – an exemption provided under the law.
“Ako po ay abogado. Hindi po ‘yan absolute. ‘Yung mga tokens po, pinapayagan naman lalo na kung panahon ng Pasko. Pwede po ang tokens, ‘yung mga wala masyadong halaga,” Roque said.
“I don’t think it’s of much value anyway. Yung mga little value sa mga special occasion. I’m not arguing, ‘yun lang po ang nakasaad sa batas. But it’s not absolute,” he added.
The Palace official also claimed that no public funds were used in the COVID-19 vaccines administered on PSG personnel even as he noted that he does not know where it came from.
“Wala pong ginastos na pera galing sa kaban ng bayan dito kaya wala pong nalabag na prayoridad na ating sinabi sa publiko. Ang prayoridad po natin ay nananatiling kapareho pa rin, mga mahihirap, mga matatanda, frontliners both health and otherwise,” he said.
PSG commander Brig. Gen. Jesus Durante III confirmed Monday that the group received COVID-19 vaccines, saying it was done “not for personal agenda but for a greater pursuit” to ensure that they won’t compromise the health of 75-year-old Duterte.
Durante did not elaborate how PSG members received vaccine shots and where did it come from.
The revelation that PSG members received COVID-19 vaccines sparked questions since the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has yet to approve any jab candidate for local use.
In a statement released earlier in the day, FDA director general Eric Domingo noted that there is no guarantee on the safety, quality, and efficacy of vaccines that were not evaluated by the agency.
Domingo added that the illegal distribution of vaccines and drugs is punishable under the law, and that FDA “will coordinate with other agencies and take appropriate regulatory action involving any unauthorized vaccines.”
The use of vaccines sans FDA approval came into light after the President himself revealed on Saturday that many Filipinos, including members of the military, received COVID-19 shots made by Chinese firm Sinopharm.
In a bid to defend the PSG from criticisms, Durante said it is the group’s “primordial task to ensure that we have a healthy President serving our fellow Filipinos every day.”
Roque earlier urged the public to “just accept” that some soldiers have been inoculated against COVID-19 even if health workers are supposed to be prioritized in the government’s large-scale immunization program.
The FDA previously said that vaccines may be available in the Philippines by the second quarter of 2021.
The agency is now reviewing the COVID-19 vaccine manufactured by U.S.-based Pfizer, which sought an emergency use authorization in the country.
The Philippine government is eyeing to vaccinate at least 60 percent of the population for herd immunity, which reduces the chances of future transmissions.