Duterte tells PSG to 'shut up' on use of smuggled COVID-19 vaccines during probe

Gaea Katreena Cabico (Philstar.com) - January 5, 2021 - 9:24am

MANILA, Philippines — President Rodrigo Duterte ordered his security detail to stay mum about their use of smuggled coronavirus vaccines as he warned Congress of a potential “crisis” should his guards be compelled to explain their actions.

Duterte’s latest statement defending personnel of the Presidential Security Group shows that holding people behind the secret and unauthorized COVID-19 vaccination accountable is unlikely, with the Armed Forces of the Philippines announcing it would call off its investigation hours after the chief executive’s speech.

“I will not elaborate on it but do not force my hand to meddle into this affair because maybe I will not, I am not so keen about allowing [PSG chief Brigadier General Jesus] Durante and the rest of the PSG to testify,” Duterte said in a televised speech late Monday.

“If they will be called to testify in Congress… then I would ask the PSG to just shut up. Do not answer. Invoke the right against self-incrimination and you will not get anything,” he added.

The chief executive warned of a “crisis” should legislators decide to cite PSG personnel in contempt and detain them.

“Please do not cite them in contempt by detaining them, I will not allow it. I will go to Congress and get them… If you do that, there will be a little crisis. That's up to you. I am prepared to defend my soldiers. I will not allow them for all their good intentions to be brutalized in a hearing,” Duterte said.

The Senate is scheduled to look into the government’s COVID-19 immunization plan next week. However, it has yet to be known whether the controversial vaccination will be discussed in the same legislative probe.

Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon said the upper house must summon Durante when it probes the government’s inoculation plan.

Various government agencies such as the Food and Drug Administration, the National Bureau of Investigation and the Bureau of Customs are investigating the entry of smuggled COVID-19 vaccines into the country.

The law prohibits the manufacture, import, sale and distribution of unregistered vaccines and drugs. It, however, stops short of penalizing people who receive unauthorized inoculation.

‘Self-preservation’

Duterte justified the action of the PSG, saying his security detail must be protected against COVID-19 to carry out their duties.

“They have every right to live and to invoke self-preservation. In criminal law, that is the right to self-defense,” he said.

Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque, hours before the president’s speech, said the discussion on the illegal vaccination should “stop.”

“I think the message of the PSG is that they are ready to die for the security of the president. Their mission is to protect the president of the Republic of the Philippines and his immediate family. So they made the decision, even if it was without authorization, to get vaccinated,” Roque said.   

It was the president himself who disclosed last month that some soldiers had received jabs of the COVID-19 vaccine developed by Chinese drugmaker Sinopharm, in a revelation that caught health officials surprised and left the public enraged.

Health workers and advocates slammed the early COVID-19 vaccination given to the president’s security detail as they were “bypassed and especially leapfrogged by those not even listed yet.”

Under the government’s prioritization scheme of vaccine recipients, healthcare workers will be the first to get COVID-19 inoculated. Uniformed personnel are fifth in the said list. 

Aside from the president's security group, at least one Cabinet member was also said to have been inoculated with an unauthorized vaccine.

COVID-19 VACCINE NOVEL CORONAVIRUS RODRIGO DUTERTE
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