COVID-19

NBI ordered to probe illegally obtained vaccines in PH

Rambo Talabong

NBI. The National Bureau of Investigation office in Manila

File photo by Angie de Silva/Rappler

(UPDATED) Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra says his order is a 'general instruction', so the NBI will not focus only on the PSG, which has admitted to administering vaccines illegally

Department of Justice (DOJ) Secretary Menardo Guevarra said Wednesday, December 30, he ordered the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) to probe illegally obtained vaccines in the Philippines.

“I have already given instructions last Monday to NBI OIC (officer-in-charge) chief Eric Distor to immediately investigate the reported unauthorized distribution and administration of unregistered anti-COVID 19 vaccines, for possible violation of the FDA Act, the Consumer Act, and the Medical Practice Act,  among others,” Guevarra said in a text message to reporters.

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Why does this matter?

Guevarra’s order came after President Rodrigo Duterte and top officials of his government confirmed that a Cabinet member and soldiers, particularly in the Presidential Security Group (PSG) have been vaccinated even when no vaccine has been approved by the Food and Drugs Administration (FDA).

For the importation, distribution, and administration of an unregulated vaccine, the FDA Act of 2009 imposes a penalty of imprisonment and stiff fines that could reach millions of pesos. 

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A disclaimer from the DOJ

Asked if the NBI will focus its probe against the PSG, Guevarra said no.

“This is a general instruction. [It is] not zeroing in on the PSG or on any particular incident of unauthorized vaccination,” Guevarra said.

He added later in a text message: “The general includes the particular.”

On Monday, January 4, Guevara ordered the NBI to submit an initial report to him within 10 days. 

The justice secretary noted that while laws do not prohibit a person from freely receiving an unauthorized drug, criminal liability can be incurred if “he himself has caused its unlawful procurement or promotes its use by other people.”

Aside from the FDA Act, Guevarra said the NBI is looking into possible violations of the Medical Practice Act of 1959 which holds liable individuals who “knowingly or willfully administer an unregistered vaccine.” 

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana earlier admitted that the vaccines were “smuggled”, but he argued that even if it violated laws, it was “justified.” – with a report from Sofia Tomacruz/Rappler.com

Rambo Talabong

Rambo Talabong covers the House of Representatives and local governments for Rappler. Prior to this, he covered security and crime. He was named Jaime V. Ongpin Fellow in 2019 for his reporting on President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs. In 2021, he was selected as a journalism fellow by the Fellowships at Auschwitz for the Study of Professional Ethics.