MANILA — No criminal liability awaits those who got themselves inoculated with unregistered or unauthorized vaccines, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra clarified Monday amid continuing questions over how close aides of President Rodrigo Duterte obtained and got themselves vaccinated against COVID-19.
“Under our existing laws, a person who freely and voluntarily gets himself inoculated with an unregistered or unauthorized drug or vaccine does not incur any criminal liability, unless he himself has caused its unlawful procurement or promotes its use by other people,” Guevarra told reporters in a message exchange.
But he said that "although vaccination is a matter of personal survival, it is important that laws on vaccine approval and administration be strictly observed for the benefit of everyone.”
The Palace disclosed that members of the Presidential Security Group (PSG) took the Sinopharm vaccine from China, which allegedly came in the form of a donation, despite lack of approval by the Food and Drug Administration of any COVID-19 vaccine for use in the Philippines.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said the vaccines used were smuggled.
Guevarra has ordered the National Bureau of Investigation to probe the “reported importation, sale, offering for sale, distribution, administration, and inoculation of COVID-19 vaccines that are not authorized by or registered with the Food and Drug Administration of the Philippines.”
NBI Spokesperson Ferdinand Lavin told ANC’s Matters of Fact that the his agency will get in touch with the PSG within the day.
It was no less than Duterte himself who first revealed over a week ago that a handful of his close-in security personnel were vaccinated.
Armed Forces of the Philippines spokesperson Maj. Gen. Edgard Arevalo and PSG chief Brig. Gen. Jesus Durante III subsequently confirmed the information, although the latter refused to divulge the actual number of those who received the vaccine and whether he himself also got inoculated.
Interior Secretary Eduardo Año said a Cabinet member had also been vaccinated, as well as some members of the Philippines Army, according to its chief, Lt. Gen. Cirilito Sobejana.
In a media forum on Monday, Teresita Ang See revealed that some 100,000 Chinese POGO workers have been vaccinated in the Philippines.
The FDA has said the "manufacture, importation, exportation, sale, offering for sale, distribution, transfer, non-consumer use, promotion, advertisement, or sponsorship of any unauthorized vaccine" is prohibited.
Guevarra said the NBI will look into possible violations of section 11 of the FDA Law, which prohibits the manufacture, importation, sale, offering for sale, distribution, transfer, promotion, etc… of any health product that is unregistered with the FDA, and section 12, which imposes fine and/or imprisonment.
Under section 12 of Republic Act 3720 as amended by RA 9711, penalties range from 1 year to 10 years in prison, or a fine between P50,000 to P500,000 if a person is involved.
If the offender is a manufacturer, importer or distributor of any unauthorized health product, the penalties could be imprisonment for up to 10 years and P5 million in fine.
“Persons who knowingly or willfully administer an unregistered vaccine may be held liable under the Medical Practice Act of 1959,” Guevarra said.
Republic Act 2382 or The Medical Act of 1959 imposes a fine of up to P10,000 or imprisonment from 1 to 5 years, or by both on those who engage in “illegal practice of medicine.”