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Palace: PSG to cooperate with FDA probe despite Duterte’s interference

MJ Blancaflor



Malacañang on Tuesday said it expects the Presidential Security Group (PSG) to participate in the investigations launched by agencies under the Executive branch into their use of smuggled COVID-19 vaccines.

This, despite President Rodrigo Duterte’s order to PSG commander Jesus Durante III to withhold information and to skip a congressional inquiry into the unregistered COVID-19 jabs allegedly given to presidential guards last year.

In a press briefing, presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Bureau of Customs, and the National Bureau of Investigation can continue its probe into the matter.

“The hearings of the executive branch can continue and, of course, we expect the PSG to appear and cooperate,” Roque told reporters.

Pressed to confirm whether the PSG will cooperate, he added: “I think they will because there is no order from the President not to participate.”

Earlier in the day, the Armed Forces of the Philippines announced it had canceled its independent probe after an obviously infuriated Duterte barred the PSG from joining any congressional inquiry into the controversy.

“I think, now I will tell Durante. Durante, do not obey the summons. I am ordering you to stay put in the barrack,” Duterte told the PSG chief, who was present at the meeting of the coronavirus task force Monday night.

Duterte also warned lawmakers that there will be a “little crisis” if they tinker with the illegal vaccine use of select military personnel as he asked them to avoid citing presidential guards “in contempt” should they refuse to disclose the details of their COVID-19 inoculation last year.

The President said he will not allow the soldiers to be “brutalized” during the Senate hearing.

“Please do not cite them in contempt by detaining them. I will not allow it. Pupunta ako diyan sa Congress, kukunin ko sila. Masyado kayong ano, eh,” Duterte said.

“Pag ginawa ninyo ‘yan, there will be a little crisis. Nasa inyo ‘yan,” he added.

Duterte dismissed speculations that there was a “cover-up” into the matter, insisting that the PSG members received unauthorized vaccines without his knowledge.

“Do not presume na sinasabi, kino-cover up. P*t*ng *n* kayo, hindi ako g*g* na maglaro

Last week, Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon said Durante should appear before the Senate inquiry on the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines in the country to shed light on their immunization without the FDA’s go signal.

But Senate President Vicente Sotto III later said the inoculation of PSG troops can be discussed in another hearing.

This came days after the PSG revealed it had supposedly carried out the vaccination of a handful of close-in security of President Duterte, using “donated” COVID-19 vaccines that have yet to be approved by the FDA for local use. Durante said the doses were given in September and October last year.

He said he had informed the President only after the vaccines were administered in October.

The revelation was criticized by the public for undermining the FDA Law which prohibits the manufacture, importation, exportation, sale, offering for sale, distribution, transfer, non-consumer use, promotion, advertising, or sponsorship of any health product that is not registered with the regulator.

It also drew flak since the more vulnerable sectors, particularly health workers, should have been the first to be vaccinated against COVID-19 based on the government’s National Vaccine Roadmap.

Despite this, Duterte expressed his support to the PSG, saying the inoculation was done for “self-preservation” and to enable them fulfill their mandate.

“How can they perform their duty when they are in danger of getting COVID? Pati ako mahawa nila,” he said.

Durante has refused to divulge the brand or sources of COVID-19 vaccines, arguing that it might jeopardize the government’s immunization program.

But he said the vaccine source could either be a person or a state and that the jabs were made using the traditional way — or through the “weakened” or “inactivated” viruses injected to people.

Weakened viruses don’t cause disease since it won’t reproduce very much, but these replicate enough to induce “memory B cells” that protect a person from infection.

Among the frontrunners in the vaccine race, China’s Sinopharm and Sinovac use inactivated virus to develop the jabs.