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'Gov't-sanctioned black market': Hontiveros hits inoculation of VIPs with unauthorized vaccines

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'Gov't-sanctioned black market': Hontiveros hits inoculation of VIPs with unauthorized vaccines
President Duterte is escorted by the Presidential Security Group during his arrival at the Batasang Pambansa for his State of the Nation Address on July 27, 2020. The AFP has confirmed that members of the PSG have been given vaccines ‘to ensure that the President is safe from all threats, including COVID-19.’
Presidential photo

MANILA, Philippines — Calling out yet another supposed whiff of corruption, Sen. Risa Hontiveros on Tuesday chastised the unauthorized vaccination of top officials and Presidential Security Group personnel with jabs which have not yet been granted regulatory approval.

"The Sinopharm vaccines used to inoculate high ranking officials [and] AFP members were clearly smuggled through a black market, [and] even worse, seem to be sanctioned by the [government]," the senator said on Twitter.

"Did the people pay for this illegal vaccination? This is another whiff of corruption," Hontiveros added partially in Filipino.

Malacañang, however, insists that the vaccines from Sinopharm were given for free even though no one in the administration is able to identify who exactly who they were from or how they entered the country.

It has also used the supposed lack of payment offered by the country in exchange for the jabs to justify the bypassing of several priority demographics — including health workers — in the government's vaccination plan wherein state forces are in fifth place.

Hontiveros further slammed the administering of the unregulated vaccines as "unethical," saying that it poses a major risk to the health of the public.

"Not only is it possible that the vaccine is unsafe, but it also might not even be effective in the first place. The soldiers might become confident, freely walking COVID superspreaders. Our soldiers are also being imperiled," she said partially in Filipino.

In addition to this, regardless of whether the vaccines were gifted as the administration claims, Republic Act 9711 , or FDA ACT of 2009, prohibits the entry of unregistered drugs into the Philippines: "The manufacture, importation, exportation, sale, offering for sale, distribution, transfer, non-consumer use, promotion, advertisement, or sponsorship of any health product which, although requiring registration, is not registered with the FDA pursuant to this Act [ is prohibited]. "

Hontiveros further said: "If the vaccine is unsafe, who will be held accountable? There are major life-threatening consequences in any lapse in this mass vaccination program. Kung may magkulang o gumawa ng kalokohan, dapat managot. (If someone is found wanting or misbehaves, they should answer for it.)"

'Transparency report' urged

The senator also urged the National Task Force Against COVID-19 to release a transparency report to prevent the wasting of funds as well as corruption.

She said this would also work to quell public suspicion of the safety and efficacy of vaccines.

"The report should reflect the decisions of the NTF every step of the way. The plan clearly says that the first step is to locally approve the vaccines [which with] Sinopharm we didn’t do. We promised that we would vaccinate our healthcare workers, who put their lives on the line everyday, first, [which] we also didn’t do," Hontiveros said.

Vaccine czar Carlito Galvez Jr., also NTF chief, has not commented on the situation, neither has Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana.

"Let us not get used to [officials] making money or wasting money during this pandemic where many Filipinos are suffering. Because millions of vaccines will be bought, one dollar overcharged will be worth a billion pesos," Hontiveros added in Filipino.

— Bella Perez-Rubio with reports from Christian Deiparine and James Relativo

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