President Rodrigo Duterte and Malacañang are laying their hands off columnist and media personality Ramon Tulfo Jr because he is a "private citizen" and no longer a special envoy to China, according to Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque.
"As far as Mon Tulfo is concerned, he clarified he is no longer special envoy to China, he is a private citizen, he can do as he pleases and the President is not in a position to compel him to do anything," said Roque on Thurday, February 25.
The Duterte spokesman had been asked by Rappler during his press briefing if Malacañang will compel Tulfo and the Presidential Security Group to cooperate in probes by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
The FDA has said regulatory laws may have been violated in how the PSG accessed and administered Sinopharm vaccines from an unknown source. Tulfo had bared he and several government officials and police officers had gotten their Sinopharm shots from the same source as the PSG, who he simply called a "philanthropist" and his "friend."
Yet the PSG has so far not cooperated in the FDA probe, as attested by FDA Director General Eric Domingo himself. It was no less than Duterte who ordered the PSG not to divulge information about the Sinopharm vaccine source.
"As far as the PSG is concerned, the President has been clear, there should be no questions anymore about the PSG because the PSG acted out of self-defense and out of necessity, full-stop," said Roque.
When asked if compelling the PSG and Tulfo to cooperate would hasten justice and allow government to exact accountability if a crime was committed, Roque said Duterte is "not a policeman, not an NBI (National Bureau of Investigation) agent."
Roque has been grilled on the PSG and Tulfo vaccinations in his recent press briefings and he has taken the same tact: to say he has no personal knowledge and can't comment, or to echo Duterte's defense of the PSG.
Asked if the Palace saw any conflict of interest in Tulfo's application to be a local Sinopharm vaccine distributor despite his former designation as special envoy to China, Roque said on Wednesday, "We have no opinion whatsoever."
The Palace also does not think the PSG and Tulfo vaccinations undermine the government's vaccination program as a whole, despite these incidents proving that certain officials or individuals were able to access vaccines by circumventing laws and regulations meant to protect citizens from unsafe health products.
"I don’t think it undermines anything. If at all, we've all become experts on FDA processes and I think that's one good thing that came out of this pandemic," said Roque.
The PSG, Tulfo, and supposedly a Cabinet member and senator were able to get Sinopharm vaccines ahead of the start of the government's vaccination program which identified health workers and the elderly as priority sectors.
Not only has Sinopharm not secured emergency use authorization from the Philippines, it has not even applied for one.
Duterte has said he prefers Sinopharm's jabs for his own inoculation. His lawyers in Malacañang are already studying if the compassionate permit granted to the PSG to use another 10,000 Sinopharm shots can be legal basis for Duterte's own vaccination.
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.