US President Richard Nixon, who left office in disgrace in 1974, once suggested that “when the president does it, that means it is not illegal.” Most of us instinctively recognize this view to be wrong—and that nobody, not even the highest official in the land, is above the law. Yet there are others who act as if the President can do no wrong, and that by extension, those who serve him are also beyond question.
This certainly seems to be the point of view held by the commander of the Presidential Security Group (PSG) Brigadier General Jesus Durante III, who confirmed reports that some of President Duterte’s bodyguards had given themselves an unauthorized vaccine against COVID-19, months before the government’s massive vaccination drive that is scheduled to begin sometime this year.
In an interview on the ANC news channel, Durante said the President did not know what they were planning to do.
“We didn’t ask permission. We just informed him about it after all the close-in personnel were vaccinated. He was surprised,” he said.
Durante refused to disclose how many PSG personnel were inoculated, but said the men were always with the President. He also did not confirm nor deny if he received the vaccine, but said he took full responsibility for the unauthorized vaccinations.
“We are soldiers so we have to take risks just to accomplish our mission. The bottom line here is we have to accomplish our mission [to protect the President] at all costs,” the PSG commander said.
Durante said no public funds were used to buy the vaccine, as the PSG “asked” and “requested” for it. However, he refused again to say where they got the vaccines, which were reportedly made by the Chinese company Sinopharm.
“It could be a person, it could be a state, or whatever,” he said.
Administration apologists insisted there was nothing illegal about the clandestine inoculations and suggested we “move on”—even though the Defense secretary admitted the vaccines must be viewed as smuggled because they did not go through the Bureau of Customs or the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). One senator even suggested inanely that we should thank the PSG members for allowing themselves to be guinea pigs for an unauthorized and untested vaccine.
All of them glossed over the fact that the unauthorized vaccinations violated state policy that health care workers and at-risk individuals would be given priority access to the COVID-19 vaccines as soon as they became available. The unauthorized vaccinations also undercut the authority of the Department of Health and the Food and Drug Administration and undermined the credibility of the government’s official vaccination program.
Given all these implications, we agree with Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon, that Durante must be summoned to Senate hearings to testify under oath about who brought in the vaccines into the country and how they found their way into the arms of the PSG men. We trust that the senators will not take “whatever” as a valid response when they question the PSG commander.