COVID-19

BOC: Vaccine used by military, Cabinet members had no official papers

Rappler
BOC assistant commissioner and spokesperson Philip Vincent Maronilla says officials involved could face smuggling complaints

The Bureau of Customs (BOC) said it was not informed of the importation of the COVID-19 vaccines given to military personnel and top officials of the government. The agency said if the vaccines are proven smuggled, officials involved could also face administrative and civil cases.

In an interview on GMA Super Radyo DZBB, Tuesday, December 29, BOC assistant commissioner and spokesperson Philip Vincent Maronilla said there were no instructions given to the BOC about the importation of the vaccines.

Maronilla also said during the radio interview that the Food and Drugs Administration (FDA) has also not cleared any COVID-19 vaccine to enter the country.

It was President Rodrigo Duterte himself who said on Monday, December 28, that certain Cabinet members and some members of the Armed Forces of the Philippines have already been inoculated against COVID-19 ahead of hundreds of thousands of health workers across the Philippines.

Sabihin ko, marami na magpainjection dito sa Sinopharm…. I have to be frank, I have to tell the truth. Marami nang nagpatusok and lahat up to now wala akong narinig for the select few, not all soldiers, hindi pa kasi policy eh,” Duterte said in a televised address. 

(I’ll say it, many here were already injected with Sinopharm…. I have to be frank, I have to tell the truth. Many were vaccinated and up to now, I haven’t heard anything for the select few, not all soldiers, because its not policy yet.)

The commander of the Presidential Security Group (PSG) Commander, Brigadier General Jesus Durante, defended the vaccination of its members, citing it as necessary to assure the security of the President.

“With the current pandemic, PSG needs to ensure that they are not themselves threat to the President’s health and safety. As such the PSG administered COVID19 vaccine to its personnel performing close-in security operations to the President,” Durante said.

Maronilla said it was the FDA which gives BOC green light regarding the entry of medicines into the country. “‘Pag ganyan pong mga klaseng produkto, kailangan po namin ng license to operate coming from the FDA or any provisional authority coming from the FDA (For products like COVID-19 vaccines, we need a license to operate or any provisional authority from the FDA).”

Duterte’s announcement about vaccination was a surprise to the FDA since the agency has not approved any COVID-19 vaccine for use yet in the country. Under Duterte’s own order, only the Food and Drug Authority can issue emergency use authorizations.

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Kung mapapatunayan po na ito ay pinasok ng walang pahintulot ng pamahalaan at clearly smuggled, maari po silang kasuhan ng violation ng ating Customs Modernization Act or smuggling (If proven that the COVID-19 vaccines were smuggled, they can be sued for violating our Customs Modernization Act),” Maronilla said.

The BOC said it was looking into how the vaccines were brought in the country amid the current movement restrictions.

Government officials have downplayed the early vaccination of some Cabinet members and soldiers. For one, Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque has characterized the smuggled vaccines as Christmas donations for soldiers that Filipinos should not worry about.

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As well, Department of the Interior and Local Government Secretary Eduardo Año and Philippine Army chief Lieutenant General Cirilito Sobejana have earlier defended the vaccination, saying it was necessary as the Cabinet officials and soldiers were considered front liners. – Rappler.com