MANILA (UPDATE) - Vice President Leni Robredo on Sunday called for transparency from the Duterte administration over the inoculation of members of the Presidential Security Group (PSG) using smuggled Chinese COVID-19 vaccine.
Robredo said the vaccination of the PSG should be investigated as it did not undergo various agencies' regular procedure.
"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," she said in her weekly radio show.
(It should be investigated because we should not tolerate the message it sends. Because if we do, it's like we encourage people to do wrong because there are no sanctions anyway.)
"Sana maging transparent na lang, tapos akuin ‘yung kasalanan. Wala nang cover-up kasi imbis na nakatutok tayo sa mas importanteng bagay, 'yan na naman ang aasikasuhin natin."
(I hope they will be transparent and own their mistakes. There should be no cover-up because we need to focus on more important things.)
The Department of Justice and the Armed Forces of the Philippines have each ordered investigation into the PSG's illegal vaccination, which supposedly started in September.
The Vice President said the PSG's inoculation against the coronavirus raises several questions such as who supposedly donated the vaccine and why it did not go through the Bureau of Customs, the Department of Health, and the Food and Drug Administration.
The vaccine candidate of Chinese firm Sinopharm is said to be the one PSG used despite the fact that no vaccine has been given regulatory approval in the Philippines.
Under the FDA law, the importation, sale and administering of unregistered vaccines should result in a penalty of a fine or imprisonment, but health officials say they do not have information yet to hold anyone accountable.
"Sana walang panlilinlang na gawin sa tao. Sana maging very transparent kasi ayaw natin magduda yung tao, kasi yun nga ang pinoproblema natin. Kailangan mataas ang confidence ng tao sa bakuna," Robredo said.
(We hope they won't fool the public. We hope they will be very transparent because we don't want the public to doubt vaccination. We need people's vaccine confidence to be high.)
"Kung yung pinakamalalapit kay Presidente, 'yun pa yung nag-violate ng mga existing protocols, ng mga batas, hindi ito nakakatulong. Whether donated, whether bumili, may mga ahensiya ng pamahalaan na kailangan mag-approve nito bago siya maipasok sa Pilipinas."
(Those closest to the President violating existing protocols, laws, does not help. Whether the vaccine is donated or bought, there are state agencies that should approve this before it can enter the Philippines.)
Robredo also questioned why the government's prioritization of who gets the vaccine first was not followed, which lists healthworkers as the first to be inoculated.
"Nag-a-agree tayo na parang dapat i-prioritize din ang uniformed personnel, lalo na ang nakapaligid sa Pangulo. Pero bakit hindi sinunod yung protocols? Bakit may viniolate na batas? Bakit 'di sinunod ang prioritization na ginawa ng IATF, DOH, ng ating vaccine czar?" she said.
(We agree that uniformed personnel should also be prioritized, especially those around the President. But why were protocols and laws violated? Why did they not follow the prioritization of the IATF, the DOH, and our vaccine czar?)
"Yung controversy, dumating sa panahon na 'yung ibang bansa nakikita natin binabakunahan na yung mga kailangan bakunahan. Tapos, tayo, wala pang bakuna na available, yun nga ang nakakadagdag sa pagaalala ng ating mga kababayan, kung kalian dadating."
(The controversy comes at a time when we can see other countries vaccinating those who need it most. Meanwhile, we do not have any vaccine available, which adds to the worries of our people of when it will arrive.)
COVID-19 vaccination in the Philippines is expected in the second quarter as the first batch of vaccine from AstraZeneca that government and the private sector ordered is scheduled to arrive in May.
'RULE OF LAW OBSERVED'
The members of PSG acted on "their own initiative" and their inoculation was "not a matter of who should have received the vaccine first as (their) undertaking was not government sponsored nor sanctioned," according to Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo.
Government's COVID-19 vaccine priority list is unchanged, he added.
"Consciously endangering one’s own life, is not a crime. Instead of being criticized, these sentinels of the President should be commended for putting their lives on the line to protect PRRD (President Rodrigo Roa Duterte)," Panelo said in a statement Sunday.
"Contrary, therefore, to the insinuation of Senator Frank Drilon and other critics, the rule of law was observed. The PSG's action, aside from being legally valid, is consistent with—and pursuant to—its duty of securing the life of the President at all cost."
Panelo said the PSG members "cannot be held liable for manufacturing, importing, exporting, selling, offering for sale, distributing, or transferring any new drug, including vaccines, without the proper authorization from the FDA."
"While existing laws provide that any new drug should have previous authorization from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) based on an application containing full reports of investigations to show whether it is safe, efficacious and of good quality for use based on clinical studies, a reading of the same shows that prohibited actions relative to new drugs presupposes that they were undertaken pursuant to commercial transactions," he said.
FDA Director General Eric Domingo had said that without any authorization, the "manufacture, importation, exportation, sale, offering for sale, distribution, transfer, non-consumer use, promotion, advertisement, or sponsorship" of any COVID-19 vaccine in the country remain prohibited.
The FDA said illegal distribution is punishable under the law, and that it "will coordinate with other agencies and take appropriate regulatory action involving any unauthorized vaccines."
Robredo in her show said those accountable should step forward as the PSG only follows authority.
"Maging accountable kung may kailangan maging accountable, kasi siguro, 'yung mga naturukan, 'di naman nila kasalanan kasi meron silang sinusunod na authority," she said.
(Those who are accountable should be held accountable because it's probably not the fault of those inoculated as they're only following authority.)
Panelo said the administration notes that the Sinopharm vaccine does not have a 100 percent efficacy rate.
"As to those individuals who use their own resources in administering unto themselves unsanctioned vaccines, believing that the same is in accordance with their call of duty, they do so at their own risk," he said.
Meanwhile, Robredo also took a swipe at the statement of Duterte, warning the United States of ending its Visiting Forces Agreement with the Philippines if it fails to deliver COVID-19 vaccines.
"Hindi ko alam kung bakit kinakailangang gawin 'yun... Hindi tayo kailangan magbanta kung nasa ayos naman yung programa natin sa procurement ng vaccine," she said.
(I don't know why we need to do that... There is no need for us to threaten if our vaccine procurement program is in order.)
"Maraming mga bagay na hindi natin kailangan at this point. And yung makipag-away na wala namang basehan, 'di 'yun makakatulong," she added, noting that the first two approved vaccines are those developed in the U.S.
(There are many things that we don't need at this point. To initiate a quarrel over something that's baseless won't help.)