THE Armed Forces is set to start today an investigation on the Presidential Security Group which inoculated its members with a COVID-19 vaccine that has not been approved by the Food and Drug Administration.
The probe, to be conducted by AFP Inspector General Maj. Gen. Franco Nemesio Gacal, starts a day after presidential spokesman Harry Roque said President Duterte acknowledged the PSG’s drive to protect him by risking their health and allowing themselves to be vaccinated.
It is unknown how the vaccine entered the country and who brought it in. The NBI, on the order of Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra, is investigating the smuggling of the vaccines.
PSG commander Brig. Gen. Jesus Durante III last month said the PSG requested the vaccine without the knowledge of the President or any government agency. The PSG members were vaccinated sometime in September and October last year.
Armed Forces spokesman Maj. Gen. Edgard Arevalo said in a press briefing that Durante was formally informed yesterday of the probe which was ordered by AFP chief Gen. Gilbert Gapay a few days ago.
Asked if the probe will continue despite the President’s statement favoring the PSG, Arevalo said, “I would have to consult the AFP chief of staff if we are going to continue the investigation.”
“But as what we have said what the chief of staff wants to know are the circumstances or the facts surrounding how it (vaccine) was procured and how it was administered between and amongst members of the close-in security of the President,” said Arevalo.
Arevalo said the military has also acknowledged the gesture of the PSG to protect the President from COVID-19.
“Their intention is not to violate the law but to perform their mandate to ensure the security of the President, not only from physical threat on his life but also from the health risk and right now the biggest threat to the President’s health is COVID-19,” said Arevalo.
Arevalo last week said the Armed Forces supported Durante’s statement justifying the inoculation of Duterte’s bodyguards, which is to “greatly reduce the possibility of being the source and carrier of this virus and consequently infect the President, whose good health and well-being are the PSG’s primordial concern.”
On calls of some quarters for Durante’s resignation, Arevalo said the PSG’s principal is President Duterte, although the unit is under the Armed Forces.
“Given the President’s statement, its likely he is not going to relieve general Durante (as PSG commander). And if General Durante will not hand down his post as PSG commander, he may have to stay pending the result of the investigation that is about to be conducted,” said Arevalo.
The clandestine vaccination of Duterte’s close-in guards has prompted criticisms against the PSG and government in general for allegedly violating laws by using unauthorized vaccines for the coronavirus disease, and for not following policies on which sectors will first receive the vaccine.
The Philippines is still negotiating with countries like the US, China, and Russia for the procurement of vaccines being manufactured by their companies. The vaccines are expected to start coming in the the first or second quarter of this year.
Roque told government critics to file cases against the PSG if they have evidence that it violated laws.
He reiterated that as far as Malacañang is concerned, the PSG did not commit anything wrong and President Duterte himself has lauded the action of his security team for risking their lives to fulfil their duties of protecting him.
“I don’t think it was a mistake to protect the President. If there’s whatever accountabilities issue, sasagutin po iyan ng PSG… Kung may kaso, let the cases be filed and let them proceed (I don’t think it was a mistake to protect the President. If there’s whatever accountabilities issue, the PSG will answer that …If there are cases, let the cases be filed and let them proceed),” Roque said.
Roque said the critics should stop politicking and riding on the issue.
He also questioned the Senate’s supposed “interference” in the security arrangements of the President in the form of a legislative inquiry on the PSG’s use of the unregistered COVID-19 vaccine.
He said the President does not interfere with the Senate security, so why would the Senate interfere with the President’s security.
He also said he is not sure if the President would allow Durante III to attend the Senate inquiry even as he said that the President’s security team is willing to cooperate.
Vice President Leni Robredo has said an inquiry on the PSG’s use of unregistered vaccines should be made while Senate minority leader Franklin Drilon said the Durante should be summoned to the Senate inquiry on the government’s vaccination plan to shed light on the vaccination issue.
NBI Deputy Director Ferdinand Lavin said the agency will pursue the investigation despite comments from Malacanang that there was nothing wrong with the vaccination.
Asked if officials who approved the vaccination will also be investigated, Lavin told a TV interview, “If we have enough evidence, then definitely yes.”
“We do not want to speculate here but we will just do our job. Where the evidence will lead us, then we will conclude this investigation with the appropriate recommendation,” he added.
Guevarra said his order to the NBI was a “general instruction” and not focused on the PSG or any particular incident of unauthorized vaccination.
Guevarra also said under the laws, a person who freely and voluntarily gets himself vaccinated with an unregistered or unauthorized vaccine or drug does not incur any criminal liability, unless “he himself has caused its unlawful procurement or promotes its use by other people.”
“Although vaccination is a matter of personal survival, it is important that laws on vaccine approval and administration be strictly observed for the benefit of everyone,” he added.
Manila Mayor Isko Moreno slammed “some senators” who he said are encouraging the use of COVID-19 vaccines even without FDA approval.
Though he did not name the said senators, Moreno said as lawmakers they should not be encouraging illegal acts such as the use of vaccines without approval from the FDA.
“Walang presidente, walang senador, walang mayor na magsasabi na hindi pwede dumaan sa FDA. May batas po tayo. Kaya yung ilang senador diyan na nagsasabi na hindi na kailangan ang FDA, kailangan po. Huwag nating hihikayatin yung mga illegal (No president, senator or mayor should say that it can be done without going through the FDA. We have laws. So, to some senators who are saying that FDA is no longer needed, it is needed. We should not encourage illegal act),” Moreno told GMA’s Unang Balita Monday.
Last Sunday, former police chief now Sen. Ronald dela Rosa said he is more than willing to get a vaccine even without FDA approval, saying he has to decide for his own life. Dela Rosa is among senators who have recovered from COVID-19. – With Jocelyn Montemayor and Ashzel Hachero