Going against own promise, Duterte to take COVID-19 vaccine 'in private'

Christian Deiparine - Philstar.com
Going against own promise, Duterte to take COVID-19 vaccine 'in private'
President Rodrigo Duterte confers with Health Secretary Francisco Duque III during a meeting with the Inter-Agency Task Force on the Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) core members at the Presidential Guest House in Panacan, Davao City on August 10 , 2020.
Presidential Photo / Joey Dalumpines

MANILA, Philippines — President Rodrigo Duterte will be vaccinated for the coronavirus in private, going against his vow months ago to take it in public in a bid to convince Filipinos that the jabs are safe.

His spokesman Harry Roque in a briefing on Tuesday said Duterte would be inoculated with China's Sinovac, whose efficacy rate remains unclear to date, "as soon as possible" but shunned the possibility of doing it out in the open.

"His answer was 'no problem'," Roque said. "Siya nga raw po ay talagang kailangan magkaroon ng bakuna pero ang sabi niya, hindi na kinakailangan ito ipakita sa publiko."

(He had said it himself that he needs to get the vaccine, but there would no longer be the need to do it in public.)

Such pronouncement effectively goes against what Duterte said last year, where he said he would volunteer to take Russia's donation of its vaccines.

"Ako, pagdating ng bakuna, in public, para walang satsat diyan, in public magpa-injection ako. Ako ‘yung maunang ma-eksperimentuhan," the president said in his August 11 address.

(When the vaccine arrives, I will do it in public so they would have nothing to say against it. I would be the first to be experimented on.)

There continues to be much controversy over the Chinese-made jabs in the Philippines, which had signed a term sheet for the purchase of 25 million doses.

His administration is continuing to face questions on its seeming preference for the vaccine, despite uncertain efficacy and overall price.

Roque said Duterte is "taking the route" of Britain's Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip, who were vaccinated early this month but done in private.

It is, however, in contrast with leaders of other democracies, such as US President-elect Joe Biden, Indonesian President Joko Widodo and Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, who all received the jabs on live television.

The move comes despite a local pollster finding that 47% of the population are not willing to be vaccinated once the jabs are available, mainly concerned on its safety.

Vice President Leni Robredo, a top opposition figure in the country, had said too that it would help build public trust on the vaccines if Duterte would be the first to take it, citing how he has remained popular as surveys suggest.

Changing tune

The giving out of seemingly strong remarks and later on changing tune is no longer new from the president in his more than four years in office.

In his election campaign in 2016, he had vowed to rid the country of illegal drugs and criminality within three to six months, only later to acknowledge that the problems would transcend beyond his term.

In February of last year, he said he would end the Philippines' Visiting Forces Agreement with the United States after Washington cancelled the visa of his ex-police chief Sen. Ronald dela Rosa, but months after put on hold the termination.

Duterte had rejected as well making advanced payments to drugmakers from Western countries as he said they were only out to make profit, but he would give approval later on for the crucial move in the country's bid to secure vaccines, which had faced criticism of lagging behind among its neighbors.

Only recently, he has said too that he would be among the first to take the vaccine for the coronavirus, then saying he and his Cabinet would be the last to take it.

Members of his security group, however, had been the first in the country to be vaccinated with the smuggled Chinese-made Sinopharm as early as September 2020. 

The incident had caught the public's eye with medical experts warning that vaccination efforts could be strained after the administration went against local regulators in doing the move.

A probe has since been launched, but it is unclear if someone would be hold responsible over it with the president exonerating his men and threatening Congress — an independent branch of government — of a "little crisis" should it push through with summoning his details.

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