The chief of the Presidential Security Group (PSG) maintains President Rodrigo Duterte had no prior knowledge PSG personnel would vaccinate themselves against COVID-19 in September.
On Wednesday, PSG chief Brig. Gen. Jesus Durante III told Karen Davila on ANC’s Headstart that they acted on their own. "We didn’t ask permission. We just informed him about it after all the close-in personnel were vaccinated. He was surprised," said Durante.
President Rodrigo Duterte revealed offhandedly in a televised briefing on December 26 that members of the PSG have already been inoculated with the Sinopharm vaccine.
Durante confirmed that "a handful of personnel" did receive the unregistered COVID-19 vaccine. “We vaccinated ourselves. It’s so easy,” he added.
When asked how the process of the inoculation went, Durante said no one approached them and everything was just based on their "independent research."
"We took the risk. So, As I’ve said, we are soldiers so we have to take risks just to accomplish our mission. The bottomline here is we have to accomplish our mission at all costs," Durante said.
"With the advent of the pandemic," he added. "I stated that we are at war… We are soldiers, we know how to take risks, we know how to face all of these risks, and one of that is the vaccine in fighting this pandemic. So at any cost, I have to get that weapon. That is my call. That is the independent call of PSG and that is my command.”
In another interview, Durante told Balitanghali that the PSG did it for the President. "Kahit hindi siya nakabakuna pero ang mga nakapaligid sa kanya ay naka-vaccine naman, mas safe siya.”
Durante has refused to answer where the vaccines came from but said these were ‘donated.’
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, meanwhile, said authorities are now investigating how the ‘smuggled’ vaccines were able to enter the country.
"Yes, it’s smuggled. Kasi hindi authorized na pumasok dito. Only the government can authorize that through the FDA (Food and Drug Administration),” he told reporters.
Lorenza revealed he had received rumors of such vaccination, but also said that he didn’t inquire further.
"Basta alam namin noon, ang rumors na kumakalat ay nagpabakuna na 'yong PSG. Who authorized it, hindi naman kami nagtanong. Ngayon pa lang lumalabas yung facts na yan ay hindi pa pala authorized na vaccine ng Pilipinas," he said.
While the inoculation was unauthorized, Lorenzana believes that it was “justified”.
"Explain lang talaga ng PSG kung bakit nila ginawa 'yon. Justified naman eh. Anyway 'yong vaccine naman ay hindi fake. Totoo naman," he said.
Despite strong criticisms, Malacañang is quick to defend the actions of the PSG.
In a press briefing yesterday, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said that the vaccines used by the PSG could be considered tokens of little value and do not violate RA 3019 or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act, which prohibits government personnel from accepting gifts or donations from private persons or groups. "Yung mga tokens po pinapayagan naman lalo na kung panahon ng pasko. Pwede pong tokens yung mga wala masyadong halaga.”
Former IATF adviser Dr. Tony Leachon however said, this would impact the integirity of the vaccine procurement process.
In an interview with ANC, he said he was “surprised” with the news. “You need really to investigate and go to the bottom of the problem kasi this will erode the credibility of the vaccination program. Kasi hindi siya basta basta eh.”
He also "found it hard to believe" that the Sinopharm vaccines the AFP received were considered tokens. According to him, two doses of Sinopharm vaccine are worth $145 to P7,250, which is above the P5,000 limit a government official may accept as a gift.