AFP chief orders probe on PSG vaccine jabs; Senators press issue

Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Chief of Staff Gen. Gilbert Gapay has ordered an investigation on the inoculation of some members of the Presidential Security Group (PSG) with a coronavirus vaccine, which is yet to be approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

"Gen. Gilbert Gapay has ordered the conduct of a thorough investigation on the factual circumstances surrounding this incident," AFP spokesperson Marine Major Gen. Edgard Arevalo said in a statement forwarded to reporters late on New Year's Eve.

Arevalo, however, said the AFP is standing by the previous statement of PSG commander, Brig. Gen. Jesus Durante, that President Rodrigo Duterte’s close-in security had themselves inoculated with the COVID-19 vaccine to reduce the possibility of being the possible source of the virus that could infect the President.

"However, we maintain our previous declaration that the Chief-of-Staff of the AFP was not part of, or privy about the circumstances involving the procurement of these vaccines, its source, and the administration thereof to PSG troopers," Arevalo said.

Meanwhile, the whole brouhaha about the inoculation of PSG soldiers and other government officials with the COVID-19 vaccine from China exposes the lack of a clear, fair, and sound game plan on the control and management of the disease, Senator Francis "Kiko" Pangilinan said Friday.

"Vacc-it nauna sila? Di ba meron ng guidelines ng mga mauuna sa mga bakuna kontra sa Covid na IATF din ang naglabas?” he asked.

Pangilinan also expressed sympathy for Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr., concurrent chief implementer of the national policy against COVID-19 and vaccine “czar” for being stuck in the middle of this issue.

Pangilinan urged the officials of the government agencies to "work as one so that we can heal as one.

The Senate hearing on the issue may begin early this month, but the date is still to be decided.

Senate Minority Leader Franklin M. Drilon said there is a deliberate attempt to cover up the facts of the illegal inoculation of some members of the cabinet, the PSG, and the military with an unauthorized China-made vaccine.

Drilon said there is no way the unauthorized vaccines could have entered the country without the Bureau of Customs (BOC) clearance.

"They cannot hide the truth. The truth will come out and we will find their fingerprints all over it. Those who caused the illegal importation and administration of the unauthorized vaccine must be held responsible. Otherwise, the environment of impunity is enhanced," said the former justice secretary.

Despite PSG chief Durante taking "full responsibility" for the administration of the unregistered vaccine to his members, admitting that they did the vaccination by themselves, Drilon quipped: "Tell that to the Marines."

He said those involved cannot invoke "good faith" nor ignorance of the law.

"It is a rule in law that ignorance of the law excuses no one from compliance therewith," said the senator, a lawyer by profession.

The Food and Drug Administration Law or Republic Act No. 3720, as amended by Republic Act No. 9711, prohibits the "manufacture, importation, exportation, sale, offering for sale, distribution, transfer, non-consumer use, promotion, advertising, or sponsorship of any health product that is adulterated, unregistered or misbranded or any health product which, although requiring registration, is not registered with the FDA pursuant to this Act."

Drilon said those involved in the inoculation of an unauthorized vaccine face a penalty of imprisonment ranging from 1 to 10 years or a fine of not less than P50,000 but not more than P500,000 or both.

The manufacturer, importer or distributor faces stiffer penalties of 5 to 10 years imprisonment and a fine of P500 thousand to P5 million, he warned.

"The FDA's assertion that it has not given any Emergency Use Authorization to any vaccine for COVID-19 is enough basis to prosecute those involved in this illegal inoculation. Our authorities should look into it and prosecute those involved," he said.

In a statement, the Senate said its interventions have put some order into the government's pandemic response. These include, among others:

* Bayanihan 1, which originally included draconian measures giving the Executive powers to shut down and take over private facilities;

* The reorganization at the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth) after the P15-billion scam at the national insurer was exposed during a Senate hearing;

* The drop in the prices of test kits by about 25% after minority senators pushed for the approval of the cheaper, world-class local test kits.

For 2021, Congress has set aside a P72.5-billion appropriation for Covid vaccination under the national budget, which was recently signed into law by the President.

A day after Christmas, President Rodrigo Duterte revealed that many in the country have already been receiving injections of the Sinopharm vaccine.

The China-developed vaccine has not yet been given any authorization from the FDA, the country's approving authority on human and veterinary drugs, biological products, and medical devices. Unauthorized administration and illegal distribution are punishable by law.

In budget deliberations at the Senate on November 16, economic managers said the Philippines has so far lost more than P3 trillion this year due to COVID-19.

Topics: Armed Forces of the Philippines , Gilbert Gapay , Food and Drug Administration
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