MANILA (UPDATE) - A "handful" of President Rodrigo Duterte's close-in security detail were vaccinated against COVID-19 as early as September this year, the chief of the Presidential Security Group said Wednesday.
Brig. Gen. Jesus Durante III refused to disclose how many PSG personnel were inoculated, but said the men were always with the President. He also did not confirm nor deny if he received the vaccine.
"We are soldiers so we have to take risks just to accomplish our mission. The bottomline here is we have to accomplish our mission at all costs," the PSG commander told ANC's Headstart.
Durante said vaccinations began in September and the last batch was in October. The personnel vaccinated themselves within the PSG compound, he said.
"We vaccinated ourselves, it’s so easy...It is within our compound, within our command. PSG alone vaccinated ourselves. Nobody from the outside was involved," he said.
"We’ve done our research. For now, we’ve found the appropriate vaccine for us, which I could say is a traditional vaccine. So we took the risk," he added.
Durante also did not confirm nor deny if the PSG personnel were inoculated with the drug manufactured by Chinese state-owned company Sinopharm.
Asked how the PSG personnel stored and handled the vaccine, he said: "Everything is in the manual."
President Duterte himself wasn't aware that his guards were getting the vaccine until the "handful" of them were inoculated.
"We didn’t ask permission. We just informed him about it after all the close-in personnel were vaccinated. He was surprised," said Durante.
Durante said no public funds were used to buy the vaccine, as the PSG "asked" and "requested" for it. However, he refused to disclose from whom it was sourced.
"It could be a person, it could be a state, or whatever," he said.
Pressed on possible repercussions regarding receiving donations or token gifts as indicated by the Anti-Graft Law, Durante said he "can't answer that."
He said he is taking full responsibility for the vaccinations of the PSG personnel.
"We did it in good faith. We did not publicly or commercially distribute any of the vaccines. For us, we just can’t wait for it to be available, which is the timeline to be next year. We can’t wait for that. We have a mandate to perform and we have to do all the necessary measures that we can," he said.
The Food and Drugs Authority is yet to approve any COVID-19 vaccine candidate for local use. As such, manufacture, importation, exportation, sale, offering for sale, distribution, transfer, non-consumer use, promotion, advertisement, or sponsorship of any unauthorized vaccine also remain prohibited.
After reports that some soldiers had been vaccinated against the disease, President Rodrigo Duterte's spokesman urged the public to "just accept" that it was the case.
Interior Secretary Eduardo Año also said there was nothing illegal in the PSG's early inoculation.