VERA FILES FACT CHECK: Duterte contradicts past pronouncement, Durante on having known about the PSG COVID-19 vaccination

After disclosing that "almost all" soldiers had been vaccinated against the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), President Rodrigo Duterte has claimed he "did not know" about the inoculation of his close-in security personnel.

STATEMENT

In his public address on Jan. 4, Duterte defended the inoculation of members of the Presidential Security Group (PSG), saying he will “not be surprised if they actually went through with it” because of the nature of their job.

He then said:

"I don’t know really if they were injected with the vaccine. What brand, hindi ko alam (I don’t know). Hindi ko talaga (I really don’t) — huwag kayong (don’t) — do not presume na (that), sabi kino-cover up (they say [it’s being] covered up). Putang ina kayo (You sons of bitches) ... hindi ako gago na maglaro ng ganito (I’m not stupid to play around like this).”

Source: Presidential Communications Operations Office, Talk to the People of President Rodrigo Roa Duterte on Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19), Jan. 4, 2021, watch from 14:37 to 14:58

The president said the PSG's decision to get the COVID-19 vaccine was "a matter of self-preservation" and added he was "not keen" on allowing its personnel to testify in any congressional probe on the issue.

FACT

It was Duterte himself who first disclosed to the public that “almost all” soldiers have already been vaccinated. PSG Commander Brig. Gen. Jesus Durante III had said the president was informed as early as October 2020 of the PSG members' inoculation against COVID-19.

Loading...

In a Dec. 26, 2020 address, the chief executive said:

Halos lahat ng sundalo natusukan na (Almost all soldiers have been inoculated). I have to be frank and I have to tell the truth. I will not foist a lie. Marami nang nagpatusok (Many have already been vaccinated) ... Up to now, wala akong narinig sa (I haven’t heard) — for the select few — not all soldiers, not all soldiers, hindi pa kasi policy, eh (because it’s not yet a policy).

Source: Presidential Communications Operations Office, Meeting of President Rodrigo Roa Duterte With Emerging Infectious Diseases Experts on Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) – Part II, Dec. 26, 2020, watch from 2:23:48 to 2:24:13

Two days later, Maj. Gen. Edgard Arevalo, spokesperson of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), said in a statement that the soldiers who received the vaccine were members of the PSG. He said, however, that the AFP was “not privy with (sic) the arrangements as to how the vaccines were obtained.”

Durante later confirmed this, saying the PSG administered a COVID-19 vaccine to its personnel “performing close-in security operations to the president.” He did not specify what brand of vaccine was administered, but said this was done as early as September last year.

In an interview at ANC Headstart last Dec. 29, Durante said the PSG “did not ask” permission from Duterte, but “informed him about it” in October, after a “handful” of the presidential security aides had been fully inoculated.

Durante said Duterte “was surprised” when he was briefed on what happened, adding he told the president how the PSG acquired the vaccines and “explained … thoroughly why [the PSG] did it.”

Vaccines ‘donated from China’

In the same Dec. 26 public broadcast, Duterte, addressing Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Director-General Eric Domingo, claimed many in the country had already been inoculated with China-made vaccine Sinopharm, although there has been no approved COVID-19 vaccine yet in the Philippines.

In response, Domingo said the FDA has conducted three raids in Makati and Binondo, but has not caught anyone selling or administering unregistered vaccines.

Three days later, on Dec. 29, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said in his press briefing that the vaccines used by the PSG came from a “donation without conditions,” adding:

[I]yan po ay galing sa vaccine na ginawa po ng Tsina (Those were from the vaccines developed by China). I think sinabi naman po ng presidente eh Sinopharm po iyan (the president said it was Sinopharm).”

Source: Office of the Presidential Spokesperson, Press Briefing of Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque, Dec. 29, 2020, watch from 14:09 to 14:16

In September last year — during which Durante claims the PSG inoculation began — the Sinopharm vaccine was granted an emergency use authorization in the United Arab Emirates while it was still on its third phase of trial. Its developers withdrew from participating in clinical trials in the Philippines the following month.

In his Dec. 29 ANC Headstart interview, Durante refused to publicly name the brand of the vaccine administered on the PSG, although he maintained that “no public funds were used” in its acquisition.

According to Roque, the vaccine used by the PSG was a “token donation” which, he said, is allowed under Republic Act 3019 or the Anti-Graft and Corruption Act “lalo na kung panahon ng Pasko (especially during Christmas time) .... ‘yung mga walang masyadong halaga (those not of much value).” Durante said PSG members were vaccinated in September and October, or two to three months away from Christmas, “to accomplish our mission (to protect the president) at all costs.”

Whether procured or donated, the vaccines need to undergo clearance from the FDA and the Department of Health (DOH) before those can be used in the country, according to Domingo.

Under a 2007 DOH administrative order (AO), donations of health and medical related goods in times of emergency situations are “main responsibilities” of the department. It says there would be “no donation,” whether from international or local sources, unless the Health secretary or a designated representative issues a “formal acceptance” for the stated purpose.

In signing the order, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III, who held the same position in 2007, “invoke[d]” his “power as ‘alter ego’ of the president with regard to the health welfare of all Filipinos.”

DOH earlier warned the public that it is unsafe to be inoculated with an unregistered COVID-19 vaccine because one cannot guarantee its safety or efficacy.

PSG officials, who fall under the category of uniformed personnel, are listed only as fifth priority in the government’s COVID-19 vaccination program, behind frontline health workers, senior citizens, and indigent population.

Following Duterte’s order to the PSG to refrain from testifying in any inquiry to be conducted by Congress, the military cancelled its own investigation on the controversy.

The National Bureau of Investigation, however, said it will proceed with its investigation on the issue, unless Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra withdraws his probe order, according to the agency’s spokesperson, Ferdinand Lavin.

Likewise, Domingo said the FDA will continue an investigation in accordance with its “process.”

Meanwhile, Duque said the PSG will be submitting monthly reports on the effects of the COVID-19 vaccine its members received almost four months ago.

To date, only the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine has been granted an EUA, a provisional permit issued to unregistered drugs or vaccines, by the FDA. (See VERA FILES FACT SHEET: Getting to know the COVID-19 vaccine prospects in the Philippines)

“Without the proper authorization, there is no guarantee on the safety, quality and efficacy of [a vaccine against COVID-19] as [it] has not undergone the required technical evaluation by the FDA.”

Source: Food and Drug Administration, Caution on Use of Unauthorized Vaccines, Dec. 28, 2020

In a briefing on Jan. 14, Domingo said, per the EUA, the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines will be supplied only to “emergency response stakeholders,” including DOH and the National Task Force Against COVID-19 or their designees, and not to be marketed commercially.


Sources

Presidential Communications Operations Office, Talk to the People of President Rodrigo Roa Duterte on Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19), Jan. 4, 2021

RTVMalacanang YouTube, Meeting on COVID-19 Concerns and Talk to the People on COVID-19, Jan. 4, 2020

Presidential Communications Operations Office, Meeting of President Rodrigo Roa Duterte With Emerging Infectious Diseases Experts on Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) – Part II, Dec. 26, 2020

RTVMalacanang YouTube, Meeting with the Emerging Infectious Diseases Experts (Full Program) 12/26/2020, Dec. 27, 2020

Armed Forces of the Philippines Official Twitter, AFP Statement from Spokesperson

@atty_edarevalo on COVID-19 vaccine to AFP Personnel…, Dec. 28, 2020

PTV News, PSG on the vaccine issue, Dec. 28, 2020

ANC 24/7 YouTube, PSG vaccinated against COVID-19 without Duterte’s knowledge - PSG Head, Dec. 29, 2020

Timeline of PSG vaccination statements

BBC News, Covid: What do we know about China's coronavirus vaccines?, Dec. 30, 2020

The New York Times, How the Sinopharm Vaccine Works, Jan. 4, 2021

The Guardian, China's Sinopharm Covid vaccine: how effective is it and where will it be rolled out?, Dec. 14, 2020

Office of the Presidential Spokesperson, Press Briefing of Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque, Dec. 29, 2020

Reuters, UAE announces emergency approval for use of COVID-19 vaccine, Sept. 15, 2020

Fortune, China’s controversial emergency-use program for COVID vaccines is going global, Sept. 16, 2020

CNBC, The UAE has approved a Chinese-made coronavirus vaccine for emergency use, Sept. 15, 2020

ABS-CBN News, Sinopharm calls off COVID-19 vaccine clinical trials in PH, Sinovac awaits ethics review, Oct. 16, 2020

CNN Philippines, China’s Sinopharm won’t conduct COVID-19 vaccine trials in PH, Oct. 16, 2020

Inquirer.net, ‘Change of mind:’ China-based pharma firm will not join vaccine trials, Oct. 17, 2020

CNN Philippines, FDA, DOH clueless on unregistered vaccine source, insist donated doses need gov’t clearance, Dec. 29, 2020

GMA News Online, Donated vaccine should still be registered —FDA chief, Dec. 30, 2020

Manila Standard, FDA ’compassionate permit’ allows unregistered vax, Jan. 6, 2021

Department of Health: Office of the Secretary: Administrative Order No. 2007-0017, Guidelines on the Acceptance and Processing of Foreign and Local Donations During Emergency and Disaster Situations, May 28, 2007. Retrieved on Jan. 12, 2020

GMA News Online, DOH: Unregistered COVID-19 vaccines could do more harm than good, Dec. 18, 2020

PTV News, DOH warns vs. used of unregistered COVID-19 vaccines, Dec. 18, 2020

Manila Bulletin, Public warned on unregistered COVID vaccines, Dec. 18, 2020

Department of Health, Priority Eligible Groups for vaccination. Retrieved on Dec. 6, 2020

GMA News Online, AFP calls off probe on PSG inoculation, Jan. 5, 2021

Inquirer.net, PH military stops probe on use of unregistered COVID-19 vaccines after Duterte order, Jan. 5, 2021

News 5, CANCELLED | Military calls off probe on PSG vaccination mess after Duterte briefing, Jan. 5, 2021

CNN Philippines YouTube, The Source: Ferdinand Lavin, Jan. 4, 2021

ABS-CBN News, Guevarra: No liability for those inoculated with unauthorized vaccines, Jan. 4, 2021

Philstar, Despite Duterte's order, NBI probe into PSG's use of unauthorized vaccine to continue, Jan. 5, 2021

Business Mirror, PSG spared, but NBI, senators’ vaccine probe seen to go on, Jan. 6, 2021

PTV YouTube, PANOORIN: The Laging Handa COVID-19 Vaccines Explained | January 6, 2021, Jan. 5, 2021

ABS-CBN News, PSG to submit monthly reports on men who got COVID-19 vaccines | ANC, Jan. 6, 2021

Food and Drug Administration Philippines Facebook, Press statement: FDA Philippines Grants Emergency Use Authorization to Pfizer-BioNTech COVID19 Vaccine, Jan. 14, 2021

Food and Drug Administration Philippines, Press Statement: Caution on Use of Unauthorized Vaccines, Dec. 28, 2020

Department of Health, FDA Special Announcement, Jan. 14, 2021

Food and Drug Administration Philippines, FDA Circular No. 2020-036: Guidelines on the Issuance of Emergency Use Authorization for Drugs and Vaccines for COVID-19, Dec. 14, 2020


(Guided by the code of principles of the International Fact-Checking Network at Poynter, VERA Files tracks the false claims, flip-flops, misleading statements of public officials and figures, and debunks them with factual evidence. Find out more about this initiative and our methodology.)

FOR FURTHER READING

Tell that to the marines

President Rodrigo Duterte’s disclosure that “almost all” soldiers have been injected with the…

VERA FILES FACT SHEET: The COVID-19 vaccine from Russia, in context

President Rodrigo Duterte’s wish that, by December, the Philippines will be COVID 19-free with the…

Amid speedy trials, access to safe COVID-19 vaccines is priority: experts

Pharmaceutical executives and the Department of Science and Technology said the target availability…

About Vera Files

Founded in March 2008, VERA Files is published by veteran Filipino journalists taking a deeper look into current Philippine issues. Vera is Latin for “true.”

Contact us

Email us at newsroom@verafiles.org

Follow us

MEMBER