Presidential spokesman Harry Roque on Monday accused some senators of interfering in the internal matters of the executive department after some of them called for a Senate inquiry into the unauthorized inoculation of members of President Duterte’s security detail against COVID-19, using an unregistered vaccine from China.
In a press briefing, Roque appealed to the Senate to respect the separation of powers between the executive and legislative branches of government.
He was reacting to a call by Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon that the commander of the Presidential Security Group (PSG) be summoned to a hearing to shed light on the early, unauthorized vaccination of the President’s bodyguards.
“What I don’t understand is why the Senate, a co-equal branch of government, is interfering with the security of the President when the President is not interfering with the Senate’s security. Perhaps, there should be mutual respect for co-equal branches of government,” Roque said.
Roque added that he didn’t know if PSG commander Brig. Gen. Jesus Durante III, who admitted to the unauthorized vaccinations, would be allowed to join a Senate inquiry.
In his earlier remarks, Durante said they did not seek permission from the President but informed him after the inoculation. He refused to say where the vaccine doses came from or who provided them.
Senator Richard Gordon, chairman of the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee, said everyone involved in the illegal vaccination of members of the PSG was liable for violating several laws.
Durante earlier said, “a handful” of his team were inoculated with a “donated vaccine” as early as September, even though the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has yet to approve the use of any COVID-19 vaccine.
Gordon said the PSG could have sought emergency use authorization from the FDA.
In an interview on ABS-CBN’s Teleradyo, Gordon said the PSG and the Cabinet members who had the early, unauthorized shots set a poor example for the public. He added that ignorance of the law was not an excuse for violating it.
“If everyone in government would do that, then some would be more equal than others, and some are more illegal than others,” Gordon said in Filipino.
Gordon said the Chinese company Sinopharm could also be penalized if it was involved in the process.
“Everyone is liable, even Sinopharm. If they knew something and they imported it here they can be banned and fined by our government because they did so without permission,” Gordon said.
“Whoever gave it is liable, including those who injected it and imported it.”
The clandestine inoculation violated the Medical Practice Act, and the smuggling in of the vaccine violated the FDA Law, Gordon said.
Roque said the PSG was ready to face any investigation, even though he objected to a Senate inquiry. He also urged the public to close the issue and move on—ignoring the legal questions raised.
"Well, 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. In other words, because they were ready to die for him, they decided to get inoculated in order to lessen the chances of the President transmitting the virus," Roque said.
Roque did not address objections that the early vaccination of the PSG members violated the administration’s own stated policy was to give health care workers and the elderly priority access to vaccines.
"Let us stop this discussion because our conversations at this moment should now be focused on the vaccines, when they're coming, and how we'll be able to spread it among our countrymen. Let's stop the politics. We already know that this issue that is being used by the enemies of the government,” he said, without mentioning that people within the administration, including the Department of Health and the FDA had also objected to the unauthorized use of untested vaccines.
Roque insisted that the PSG did not violate the FDA Law because the vaccines were given to them as “a token” during the yuletide season—even though Durante said the PSG members had beens inoculated as early as September.
Justice Secretary Menardo Gueverra also weighed in on the issue saying that any person who voluntarily gets himself inoculated with unregistered anti-COVID-19 vaccine cannot be held liable under the law.
Guevarra however strongly advised vaccine recipients that it would be better if they complied with the laws on the approval, distribution and administration of vaccines.
“Under our existing laws, a person who freely and voluntarily gets himself inoculated with an unregistered or unauthorized drug or vaccine does not incur any criminal liability, unless he himself has caused its unlawful procurement or promotes its use by other people,” Guevarra said in a text message to reporters.
Those behind the smuggling and distribution of unregistered COVID-19 vaccines were warned that they can be held criminally liable under the law, he said.
The Justice Secretary cited Section 11 of the Food and Drug Act which prohibits the manufacture, importation, sale, offering for sale, distribution, transfer, promotion etc. of any health product that is unregistered with the Food and Drug Administration.
The law also imposes the penalty of fine and/or imprisonment.
“On other hand, persons who knowingly or willfully administered an unregistered vaccine may be held liable under the Medical Practice Act of 1959,” Guevarra warned.
Guevarra made the statement amid reports that there were at least 100,000 Chinese POGO (Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators) workers who have already received shots of unregistered COVID-19 vaccines.
Also on Monday, the Department of Health warned doctors that they could lose their license if proven that they participated in the administration of unregistered COVID-19 vaccines.
At a briefing, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said the DOH will coordinate with the Professional Regulation Commission (PRC) to determine the liability of doctors involved in illegal vaccination.