MANILA - Sen. Richard Gordon on Tuesday said the Senate should look into the reported illegal COVID-19 vaccinations in the country, including the inoculation of some Chinese nationals and Presidential Security Group (PSG) personnel.
The use of smuggled vaccines and disregard for the country's law on drug registration "are serious matters," Gordon, chair of the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee, told reporters in an online press conference.
"Hindi ito nadadaan sa pakiusapan, sa pakisamahan (This cannot be solved through requests or through camaraderie). Democracy is rule of law," he said.
"I want to know sino nagpasok [ng smuggled COVID-19 vaccines]? Bakit nila tinatago?" he said.
(I want to know who brought the smuggled COVID-19 vaccines? Why did they hide it?)
Gordon was referring to the reported inoculation of some 100,000 Chinese workers in Philippine Offshore Gaming Operator (POGO) hubs even if the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has yet to certify the sale and distribution of any COVID-19 drug in the country.
The PSG also admitted to receiving unapproved vaccines, which they allegedly self-administered last year.
"Dapat buksan natin 'yun... Bakit kayo mauuna sa'min? You have the lay of the land? Hawak niyo na ba kami dito? Nag-smuggle pa kayo
ano? Tameme tayo? Napakatanga ba ng bansa natin?" Gordon said.
(We have to open that issue... Why were you vaccinated ahead of us? You have the lay of the land? Do you control us in our own country? You even smuggled? Won't we do anything about it? Is our country that stupid?)
"Pati 'yung PSG maraming na-violate (Even the PSG committed a lot of violations). I salute them for their loyalty but I will also salute them if they say 'I made an error and I submit myself to the mercy of a court marshal or an investigation'," he said.
On Monday night, President Rodrigo Duterte warned Congress not to meddle with the inoculation of PSG personnel and ordered his security officials to "shut up" should they be summoned to congressional investigations.
While Duterte's pronouncement is not a violation of the separation of powers among the three branches of government, Gordon said "there is a whiff of a threat."
"He is behaving as a mayor. He is protecting his people... I was disturbed by it quite frankly," he said.
"The President has got to respect the separation of powers clause... To shackle the Senate or Congress on what it is supposed to do is wrong of the President," he said.
The Senate is scheduled to convene as a Committee of the Whole on January 11 to investigate the national government's plan in the roll out of COVID-19 vaccines, but Senate President Vicente Sotto III said PSG personnel would not be summoned to the hearing.
Gordon said the senators must discuss in caucus how to deal with the issue as it would "not go away" even if Congress declines to investigate it.
"Ako nagagalit ako na bakit kayo lang? Bakit mga Chinese na may pera lang ang nauna? Dahil may pera sila?" he said.
(I am angry because why just them? Why are the moneyed Chinese getting vaccines first? Because they have money?)
"It really shows na palakasan pa rin sa bayan natin (that here it's about connections)," he said.
Sen. Risa Hontiveros said the Senate should pursue its investigation on reports of illegal COVID-19 vaccinations in the country "to protect the integrity" of Philippine regulatory agencies.
"It is government's responsibility to crack down on this COVID-19 vaccine black market. Whether it's the PSG, the POGO workers or any member of the public, the use of unregulated vaccine is unlawful," she said.
"If as early as now the government cannot control unverified and possibly life-threatening vaccines from entering the market, people’s trust in any COVID-19 vaccine, even if officially distributed, will only go down," she said.
Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon said senators could instead summon other officials if the President would "invoke executive privilege to prevent the PSG commander from appearing before Congress."
"There is no preventing Congress from eliciting information in aid of legislation from other resource persons," he said.
"In aid of legislation, the Senate must elicit information from other sources on how to strengthen the FDA and the Bureau of Customs to prevent similar episodes in the future," he said.