Duterte: Investigate people who skipped COVID-19 vaccine priority list

(Philstar.com) - March 24, 2021 - 11:07pm

MANILA, Philippines — President Rodrigo Duterte on Wednesday aired his dismay over the vaccination of people who are not medical workers and who are not on the priority list.

The president was reacting to reports that five mayors in the provinces already received the vaccine. As did actor Mark Anthony Fernandez, who was vaccinated in Parañaque City. 

Inoculation efforts in the country are still focused on health workers, with over 500,000 so far vaccinated out of the 1.7 million who are the top priority.

"I'm sorry to say, but the names that have reached us are already up for charges," Duterte said in Filipino, referring to the local chief executives. "That is malversation of funds."

As of March 23, they are Alfred Romualdez of Tacloban in Leyte, Dibu Tuan and Sulpicio Villalobos of T'boli and Sto. Niño in South Cotabato, respectively, as well as Noel Rosal of Legazpi in Albay and Abraham Ibba of Bataraza in Palawan.

The interior department has already sent show-cause orders to the mayors, although Interior Undersecretary Epimaco Densing said the local chief executives may have acceptable explanations for being vaccinated ahead of other priority groups.

"Frontline healthcare workers go first in the A1 priority list. However, sometimes the healthcare worker doesn't show up so there needs to be a substitution plan. So we want to see if it is in line with the substitution plan when they get vaccinated," Densing said earlier Wednesday.

Duterte reiterated a warning by the World Health Organization that failure to follow the list of priorities could risk the country's share in the COVAX facility.

The Philippines is significantly reliant on the jabs from the global initiative, with 525,600 doses already in the country and nearly a million more arriving by this month.

Apart from the vaccines from COVAX, it has so far made a single purchase of a million doses of Sinovac, with procurement efforts with other manufacturers yet to be finalized.

"Ordinarily, it's just trivial," Duterte said of officials going ahead of a government-prepared priority list. "But in times like this when we are only the donee and receiving it from donors with conditions, we have to follow it."

Although the president initially said that the matter would be left to the Department of Health, he also said it might be handed to the Office of the Ombudsman instead.

Unauthorized vaccinations in 2020

What the president did not mention, however, is that jumping the line to get vaccinated started with the Presidential Security Group. It was Duterte who revealed late last year that PSG personnel had been inoculated with Sinopharm vaccines.

The vaccines have since been found to have been smuggled and, because the vaccine had not been approved for use in the Philippines, unauthorized. 

Medical experts had warned of the repercussions of the highly-criticized incident, saying it could set a bad precedent. To date, no one has been held accountable for it, with the Food and Drug Administration admitting that its probe has barely made progress. 

Duterte himself told the PSG to keep mum over the illegal vaccination, with him also warning lawmakers who proposed an independent probe of a "little crisis."

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