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