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Secret use of unregistered vaccines implies it’s OK to break law — Robredo



The unauthorized vaccination of President Rodrigo Duterte’s security detail and other top government officials should be investigated to prevent the impression that breaking the law is acceptable, Vice President Leni Robredo said Sunday.

In her weekly radio show, Robredo lamented that officials close to the President received COVID-19 vaccines without the approval of the Food and Drug Administration as she called for transparency in investigation.

“Dapat maimbestigahan kasi ‘yun yung mensahe din na hindi natin papalampasin. Kasi kung papalampasin lang, parang ine-encourage yung tao na gumawa ng mali kasi parang walang nangyayari, parang walang sanctions,” Robredo said.

“Ang problema, ano iyong mensahe? Iyong mensahe dito pwede pala iyon kung meron kang means, kung meron kang pambili, pwede pala iyon,” she added.

Robredo also expressed support for the Senate’s call to probe the vaccination of members of the Presidential Security Group (PSG), but she stressed that the issue can be resolved faster if those involved will cooperate with investigators.

“Sana maging transparent na lang tapos akuin na lang iyong kasalanan, wala nang cover-up. Kasi imbis na nakatutok tayo sa mas importanteng mga bagay, iyan na naman ang aasikasuhin natin,” she added.

The FDA, the Bureau of Customs, and the National Bureau of Investigation’s Special Action Unit are holding separate probes on the distribution and use of unregistered COVID-19 vaccines in the country after the revelation that the PSG had received unauthorized jabs last year. The Armed Forces of the Philippines recently announced it would launch its own investigation on the matter.

PSG chief Jesus Durante III has refused to divulge the brand or sources of COVID-19 vaccines when pressed by the media, which he said were taken for free since the group asked for donations. He also argued that disclosing it might jeopardize the government’s immunization program.

Durante added that the PSG may invoke confidentiality if the FDA seeks details on the matter.

“It’s up to us, but of course, we have to adhere to confidentiality due to the nature of our job. We could invoke that…That will depend kung ano man ang investigation na gagawin,” he said in a television interview.

The secret vaccination, which took place in September and October last year according to Durante, was criticized by the public for undermining more vulnerable sectors, particularly health workers, who should have been the first to be vaccinated during the pandemic.

Duterte’s chief legal counsel Salvador Panelo defended the PSG from criticisms, saying the end-users of an unregistered vaccines “cannot be held liable” for manufacturing, importing, exporting, selling, offering for sale, distributing, or transferring any new drug and vaccines without the proper authorization from the FDA.

He also argued that PSG members were vaccinated without the use of public funds, hence “this issue is not a matter of who should have received the vaccine first as the PSG’s undertaking was not government sponsored nor sanctioned.”

“Moreover, the PSG, being soldiers, are deemed to be front liners and included in the priority list to be subjected to anti-COVID-19 vaccine,” Panelo said.

But he did not mention that the uniformed personnel are supposed to be fifth in line among groups prioritized for vaccination, following health workers, senior citizens, indigent senior citizens, and the rest of the indigent population.

“Consciously endangering one’s own life, is not a crime. Instead of being criticised, these sentinels of the President should be commended for putting their lives on the line to protect PRRD,” Panelo claimed.

The FDA has not yet authorized any COVID-19 vaccine for use in the Philippines. The agency has repeatedly warned the public against the use of unauthorized vaccines since its safety and efficacy are not guaranteed.

It was President Duterte who revealed in his public address last December that some soldiers had already been vaccinated against COVID-19 using doses from China’s Sinopharm. Military officials later confirmed the move.