MANILA - House Majority Leader Ferdinand Martin Romualdez personally told President Rodrigo Duterte that he availed of a COVID-19 vaccine, Senate President Vicente Sotto III said Monday, as reports of some lawmakers availing of a potential vaccine against the respiratory disease swirled online.
Sotto said Romualdez told them about his vaccination during a mid-September meeting in Malacañang when Congressional leaders met with the President.
"Kasi si Martin Romuladez ang nagkukuwento kay Presidente," Sotto told reporters in an online press conference when asked about the matter.
(Martin Romualdez was telling the story to the President.)
"President Duterte asked me. Sabi niya, 'O ano? Tayong 2 magvaccine na din tayo?'" he said.
(President Duterte asked me. He said, "What now? Should the 2 of us also get the vaccine?")
"Sabi ko, 'Tingnan muna natin 'yung dalawa kung ano resulta. Baka one of these days, tanungin na lang ako ni Ping, hu u?'" he said, recalling his conversation with the President.
(I told him, "Let's wait and see what the effect to the 2 of them would be. Maybe one of these days, Ping would ask me, who am I?")
Sotto was referring to Sen. Panfilo Lacson, who he claimed also availed of a COVID-19 vaccine.
"Si [Sen. Christopher] Bong Go gusto din pero wala, hindi natuloy," the Senate President said.
(Sen. Bong Go also wanted to be vaccinated but it did not push through.)
Reports of Lacson availing the vaccine before it was approved by Health officials surfaced after Sotto said in session last week that the former Philippine National Police chief is already immune from COVID-19 thanks to a vaccine he received.
Lacson had refused to confirm nor deny reports that he was immunized with an unapproved drug, hinting that he was only saying things in jest when he told other senators about the vaccine.
"Kapag kinakausap niyo si Sen. Lacson, hindi niya sinasagot directly
so I would go on the conservative side: Siya na lang tanungin niyo," Sotto said.
(When you talk to Sen. Lacson, he doesn't answer directly so I would go on the conservative side: Ask him.)
"Baka mamaya kaka-kuwento ko, 'yung mga hindi ko dapat ikuwento, naikuwento ko na," he said.
(I might have been telling stories I was not allowed to tell.)
"Basta sabi niya (Lacson), 'Kami immune na kami,'" the Senate President said.
(But what he said was, "We're already immune.")
Asked if Romualdez's story about his immunization might have been said in jest, Sotto said: "Presidente kausap niya e. Si presidente sinasabihan niya. Siya tanungin niyo kung nagbibiro siya."
ABS-CBN News reached out to Romualdez's camp, but his staff said that the Leyte representative has yet to release a statement about the issue.
The Department of Health (DOH) earlier reiterated that the government has yet to approve any vaccine against COVID-19.
"Sa ngayon, hanggang wala pa tayong registered na vaccine... dapat maging maingat ang ating mga kababayan," Health Undersecretary Rosario Vergeire said.
(As of now, we do not have a registered vaccine... Our countrymen should be careful.)
Sotto said he sees nothing wrong with lawmakers availing of COVID-19 vaccines in advance.
"Wala akong nakikitang violation. Example, gusto ko barilin yung binti ko, makukulong ba ako? Meron ba akong viniolate kung lisensyado yung baril ko?" Sotto said.
(I don't see any violation. Example, if I want to shoot my leg, will I be imprisoned? Did I violate any law if my firearm was licensed?)
"To each his own. Maraming gamot, maraming mga vitamins, mga enhancers na nandiyan nakakalat... I don't see any violation," he said.
(To each his own. There are a lot of medicine, a lot of vitamins, enhancers in the market... I don't see any violation.)
Sotto instead questioned why the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has been "dribbling" the approval of several COVID-19 vaccines that have already been approved in first world nations.
"Pinagtataka namin, bakit FDA approved sa America, FDA approved sa Europe, pagdating sa Pilipinas ayaw i-approve?" Sotto said.
(If the vaccine is already approved in America and in Europe, why not approve it in the Philippines?)
"Bakit drini-dribble niyo kung approved naman sa ibang bansa?" he said.
(Why are you dribbling it when it is already approved in other countries?)
"Sabihin niyo sa DOH, gawin nila trabaho nila. Bakit niyo pinapakealaman yung mga senador at congressman?" he asked.
(Tell the DOH that they should do their job. Why are you meddling with senators and congressmen?)
The Philippines needs to vaccinate at least 70 percent of the population before the country can become immune to COVID-19, Health officials had said.
But it has yet to secure a COVID-19 vaccine despite promising developments from Pfizer and Moderna vials.
The Senate has earmarked some P18 billion in the 2021 budget for the purchase of COVID-19 vaccines next year.