MANILA - President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday ordered Presidential Security Group (PSG) officers to withhold information about the smuggled COVID-19 vaccines they received last year.
In his weekly public address, Duterte defended the PSG vaccination against COVID-19.
"To me it's a matter of self-preservation. Whatever be your objection, whatever be your criticism, para sa akin, it is a matter of preservation," he said.
The President also told lawmakers not to force the PSG to talk about the vaccines.
"And I would like to call on Congress, na hindi naman ako nakikiusap, ang akin lang, diretso na salita (I am not asking for a favor, I just want to say it), do not tinker with the PSG," Duterte said.
"I'm telling you as president, it's a matter of self-preservation. So hanggang diyan na lang ako (this is all I'm telling you), I will not elaborate on it, but do not force my hand to meddle into this affair because maybe I am not so keen about allowing Durante and the rest of the PSG to testify," he added.
Should they be called to testify, Duterte told the PSG to "shut up".
"Ginawa ito nila, as I understand, para sa kapakanan ng buhay nila. (They did it to save their lives.) So if they will be called, they'll be called to testify in Congress, as a lawyer, I will just tell them, because they are now being accused and with the accompanying statement of prosecution and things like that, if that is the case, then I will ask the PSG to just shut up. Do not answer. Invoke the right against self-incrimination. Wala kayong makukuha. (You will not get anything.) Do not force my soldiers to testify against their will. 'Wag ninyong i-contemp contempt, i-detain ninyo. (Do not cite them in contempt or detain them.) I don't think it will be good for you and for me. I don't think it will be healthy for everybody," he said.
"They have every right to live and to invoke self-preservation," Duterte added.
Duterte also said he may not allow the members of the PSG to testify in Congress.
"If they ask you questions, sabihin ko talaga sa kanila, do not answer. And maybe even I will not allow them to appear in Congress. Makakanood tayo dito ng, not really a crisis, but there will be a nasty thing that will transpire," he said.
(If they ask you questions, I will tell them, do not answer. And maybe even I will not allow them to appear in Congress. We will see something like, not really a crisis, but there will be a nasty thing that will transpire.)
Citing national security, PSG commander Brig. Gen. Jesus Durante III admitted last week that members of the president's security group has already been inoculated.
Interior Secretary Eduardo Año also said some soldiers and PSG members were inoculated with the vaccine candidate of Chinese drugmaker Sinopharm, adding they were among the first to get the vaccine because they are frontliners.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana later said authorities are investigating how the vaccines got past border inspection.
While the use of vaccines was unauthorized, Lorenzana believed the early inoculation of members of the PSG was "justified".