President Rodrigo Duterte wants 9 mayors to explain why they were administered with COVID-19 vaccines when these are reserved for medical frontliners.
The President called a meeting with pandemic task force officials on Wednesday evening, March 24, to bring up the controversy.
He read out the names of 9 mayors who were found to have skipped the vaccine line:
Duterte also said there were other officials and non-health workers in a list compiled by the government, but he declined to read the names publicly.
He mentioned that a child of a celebrity was among those who jumped the line.
"Hindi nasunod kasi may iba – ang balita ko naibigay sa mga anak ng mga artista at iba pa (The priority list wasn't followed because I heard that the vaccines were given to children of actors and others). The favored few always," said Duterte.
Then he said he "understands" the "penchant of Filipinos" to grant favors to friends.
"We want to please everybody, especially friends. Parang unahin natin. Parang baga, us first tapos sila. (The mentality that we should prioritize them. Like, us first before them.)," said Duterte.
Duterte floated that the officials might be liable for malversation or estafa and ordered government officials to file complaints with the Office of the Ombudsman if the mayors are in the wrong.
But the President also said there could be a "gray area" if the mayors say they got vaccinated in order to increase vaccine confidence among their constituents.
"If the purpose is really to show the constituency that it is safe, hindi ko maano masyado – there is a gray area there. Kasi una, sinasabi magpaturok ako. Dapat ako ang mauna," said Duterte.
(If the purpose is really to show the constituency that it is safe, I'm not so – there is a gray area there. Because at first, people were saying I should get vaccinated first.)
This was the reason cited by at least one of the mayors, Tacloban City Mayor Alfred Romualdez.
But 3 weeks ago, Duterte's own spokesperson Harry Roque had labelled the vaccination of non-healthcare workers, save for a handful of government officials, as breaches in protocol.
The National Immunization Technical Advisory Group for COVID-19 Vaccines had clearly said that the over one million vaccine doses currently in the country were reserved for the nation's 1.7 million health workers.
The experts' panel had rejected the pandemic task force's proposal to allocate vaccines for "influencers," including government officials whose inoculation could boost vaccine acceptance among Filipinos.
This means the panel did not consider the purpose of increasing vaccine acceptance as a reason to divert precious vaccine doses from health workers.
Duterte on Wednesday underscored that the doses must only go to medical frontliners because future deliveries of vaccines donated by the World Health Organization (WHO) depend on it.
"We are only the donee sa mga donor at tinaggap natin 'yan with the conditions. Dapat sundin natin kasi sinabi na sa atin ng country representative ng WHO, 'If you do not follow the list of priority, you might lose the assistance of the WHO,'" said the President.
(We are only the donee to donors, and we accepted that with the conditions. We should follow them because the WHO country representative said, 'If you do not follow the list of priority, you might lose the assistance of the WHO.)
Health Secretary Francisco Duque III, in the same meeting, underscored that the vaccines already delivered cover only 30% of the doses required to fully vaccinate the country's health workers. There are 1.5 million doses when 3.4 million are needed because the vaccines require two shots.
"The vaccines are really not enough so we need to follow our priority listing," Duque said in Filipino.
The day before, the Department of Health had warned that non-health workers receiving the vaccines could jeopardize future deliveries of jabs coming from the WHO-led COVAX Facility. – Rappler.com
Pia Ranada covers the Office of the President and Bangsamoro regional issues for Rappler. While helping out with desk duties, she also watches the environment sector and the local government of Quezon City. For tips or story suggestions, you can reach her at email@example.com.