MANILA (UPDATE3) - Citing national security, the head of President Rodrigo Duterte's security group said Monday their members were inoculated against COVID-19, even as regulators have yet to approve a vaccine for this.
The Presidential Security Group "needs to ensure that they are not themselves threat to the President's health and safety," said its commander, Brig. Gen. Jesus Durante III.
"As such, the PSG administered COVID19 vaccine to its personnel performing close-in security operations to the President," he said in a statement.
"National security imposes the protection of the President being the Commander in-Chief from all forms ot threat, especially COVID-19, in order to preserve the stability of our nation. It is PSG's primordial task to ensure that we have a healthy President serving our fellow Filipinos everyday," added Durante.
The PSG's decision "is a courageous step that greatly supports its mandate," he said.
"We did it not for personal agenda but on a greater pursuit that is even way beyond our mission of protecting our President."
'SOLDIERS ARE FRONTLINERS'
Interior Secretary Eduardo Año said some soldiers and PSG members were inoculated with the vaccine candidate of Chinese drugmaker Sinopharm. They were among the first to get the vaccine because they are frontliners, he said.
"Meron nga (They have). I will confirm that pero 'di ko lang puwede sabihin 'yong pangalan nila unless sila mismo [mag-confirm] (but I can't divulge their names unless they confirm it themselves)," he told ABS-CBN's TeleRadyo.
"Wala naman daw [side effects]. Although ang nadinig natin, parang ikalawang dose ay medyo nagkaroon sila ng sore throat for a day or 2. Then after, no'n wala na. Okay naman daw sila," he said.
(There are no reported [side effects]. From what we've heard, in their second dose, they experienced sore throat for a day or 2. Then, there was none after it. They were fine.)
Philippine Army chief Lt. Gen. Cirilito Sobejana said those who were inoculated had no hesitations about getting the vaccine, which was yet to be approved for use by the country's Food and Drug Administration.
"I know of some po, but I could just not disclose the unit. I know po, personally, I know na meron nang nabakunahan sa hanay po ng Armed Forces," he said in an interview with radio DWIZ.
(There are members of the Armed Forces who were vaccinated.)
"Of course, our President is our Commander-in-chief sa Armed Forces of the Philippines ano, I should say that it's from the chain of command of the Armed Forces," he added when asked who authorized the vaccination.
Sobejana said of those who received the vaccine, some were officials and non-commissioned officers. All of them are considered frontliners, he said.
"May panangga na sila, pwedeng isalang sa pagbabantay sa borders," he said, without revealing details of how many already received the vaccine.
(They are now protected against the virus. They can be deployed in borders.)
"Meron naman po sigurong paliwanag yung mga doktor na nagbigay ng bakuna sa kanila at hindi po sila nag-alinlangan."
(Doctors probably oriented them. There were no hesitations.)
AFP spokesperson Major Gen. Edgard Arevalo, in an initial statement, said the military was unaware that its personnel were inoculated against the virus.
"We do not have an AFP Leadership-sanctioned vaccination. We are getting details," he said, adding that the military has only heard it was among frontliners prioritized for the inoculation.
In a later statement, Arevalo echoed Año and said PSG members were the first ones from the AFP who were vaccinated.
"As the unit primarily tasked to protect and secure the highest official of the land, the PSG will have to ensure that the President is safe from all threats—including COVID-19," he explained.
"We are not privy with the arrangements as to how the vaccines were obtained," he added.
In an interview on TeleRadyo, Arevalo said that the PSG is not required to inform the AFP about all its operations.
"Ang totoo niyan, hindi naman po lahat, especially po, ang operation ng Presidential Security (Group) is by nature, talaga pong sikreto 'yan. Hindi po lahat nakakaalam, maging sa Armed Forces of the Philippines, lalo na maging movement ng ating presidente, pati po 'yung kaniyang mga activities. Ganoon din po 'yung kaniyang kalagayan, lalong lalo na po kung ang mga kautusan, for that matter, hindi kailangang malaman po ng Armed Forces of the Philippines," he said.
(The truth is, not all [are disclosed to us], especially the operations of the Presidential Security [Group] is by nature a secret. Not everyone knows about their operations, even the Armed Forces of the Philippines, especially when it is about the movement of the President, as well as his activities. The same goes for his condition, and even his orders, for that matter, the Armed Forces of the Philippines doesn't have to know.)
"So, much as the PSG is an integral part of the AFP, the very nature of its mission and function and its assignment ay nagdidikta, ano, na hindi lahat ng operations ng PSG ay kailangang malaman o humingi ng clearance o go signal from the AFP leadership. Unique po 'yan sa PSG. Not all units are having that kind of leeway on their part as a unit," he added.
(So, much as the PSG is an integral part of the AFP, the very nature of its mission and function and its assignment dictates that the PSG does not need to ask for clearance or go signal from the AFP leadership. That is unique to the PSG. Not all units are having that kind of leeway on their part as a unit.)
Arevalo's explanation is in reaction to the earlier confusion about reports that some soldiers have already been inoculated against COVID-19 vaccine.
FDA: UNAUTHORIZED VACCINE USE IS ILLEGAL
The Food and Drug Administration said it has not yet approved any COVID-19 vaccine candidate for local use, as of Monday.
"As of date the FDA has not issued any Emergency Use Authorization to any vaccine for COVID-19," the regulator's Director General Eric Domingo in a statement.
"Without the proper authorization, there is no guarantee on the safety, quality and efficacy of said vaccine as the same has not undergone the required technical evaluation by the FDA," he added.
The agency also maintained that "manufacture, importation, exportation, sale, offering for sale, distribution, transfer, non-consumer use, promotion, advertisement, or sponsorship of any unauthorized vaccine" remain prohibited.
But Duterte's spokesman Harry Roque asked the public to understand the situation.
"Huwag 'yo naman pong ipagkait sa ating mga sundalo kung nagkaroon sila ng proteksyon," he said.
"Tanggapin na lang po natin na importante na iyong ating kasundaluhan, iyong mga nagbabantay sa ating seguridad ay ligtas na sa COVID nang magampanan nila ang kanilang trabaho," he said in a virtual press briefing.
(Don't deprive our soldiers of protection from the disease. Let us just accept that it is important that our soldiers, those who are guarding our security are safe from COVID so they can do their jobs.)
- With reports from Davinci Maru and Gillan Ropero, ABS-CBN News