COVID-19

NBI silent if Mon Tulfo to be included in probe of smuggled vaccine case

Lian Buan
NBI silent if Mon Tulfo to be included in probe of smuggled vaccine case

SMUGGLED VACCINE. File photo of Ramon Tulfo Jr at the Senate on September 22, 2020

Photo by Joseph Vidal/Senate PRIB

Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra says Tulfo's account may just be a surplus. But what about the columnist's liability? Guevarra avoids comment.
NBI silent if Mon Tulfo to be included in probe of smuggled vaccine case

Even if columnist Ramon Tulfo Jr has come out in public that he had a hand in the illegal entry into the country of Sinopharma vaccines, the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) are tight-lipped on whether they would include him in the ongoing probe into smuggled vaccines.

NBI Spokesperson Ferdinand Lavin did not reply to Rappler when asked on Thursday, February 25, about the status of the probe and if they would include Tulfo. Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra, meanwhile, gave sparing details.

“I will leave it to the NBI to determine if it’s necessary or relevant to invite Ramon Tulfo to shed light on the matter,” Guevarra told reporters.

Guevarra ordered the NBI probe back in December 2020.

The NBI and DOJ’s ambiguity is a stark contrast to immediate pronouncements by the Department of Health (DOH) and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) which said they would investigate Tulfo’s account, where he admitted to being inoculated with smuggled vaccines. 

Guevarra said he was already asking the NBI for a progress report.

Section 11 of the FDA law prohibits the sale and distribution of any unregistered product, including the Sinopharm vaccine which was not authorized at any capacity at the time. People who administer the unregistered vaccine are liable under the Medical Practice Act.

“[Tulfo’s] account is relevant. But if the NBI has already established the sources and distribution channels of unauthorized vaccines in the market, the additional information may be a surplusage,” said Guevarra. (READ: Malacañang after Mon Tulfo’s illegal vaccination: He can do as he pleases)

But what about his liability? Tulfo is a Special Envoy for Public Diplomacy to China. Tulfo said he was also looking to distribute Sinopharm vaccines here.

“Under our existing laws, a private person who voluntarily agrees to be inoculated with an unregistered vaccine is answerable only to himself. But a higher sense of ethical responsibility is demanded of a public officer who is expected not only to follow but also to uphold the law,” said Guevarra.

We pointed out that Tulfo is a special envoy who is able to talk to Duterte himself, and in his vouching for the vaccine, able to question the discretions of vaccine czar Carlito Galvez Jr and even the FDA.

“As secretary of justice who should be the last person to determine a person’s criminal liability, I am constrained to refrain from making any comment that may be construed as a prejudgment on a case which is not even before my office,” said Guevarra.

When Guevarra announced in December his order for the NBI to investigate the issue, we already asked if it would particularly look at the smuggled vaccines administered to members of the Presidential Security Group (PSG). (READ: Lorenzana: Vaccines used by Duterte security smuggled but ‘justified’)

Guevarra was also vague back then.

“It’s a general instruction. The general includes the particular. I will leave the manner of investigation to the NBI,” he had said on December 30.

Pressed some more, the justice secretary said: “The agency has several sources of information other than the PSG.”

Here’s a transcript of reporters’ exchange with Secretary Guevarra on Tulfo:

Q: Will Mon Tulfo be summoned by the NBI after admitting that he got vaccinated with unregistered vaccine?

Secretary Guevarra: The NBI has an ongoing investigation on the alleged importation, entry, sale, and administration of unregistered COVID-19 vaccines in the underground market. I will leave it to the NBI to determine if it’s necessary or relevant to invite ramon tulfo to shed light on the matter.

Q: Both DOH and FDA already said they will include Mon Tulfo in probe. NBI and DOJ not prepared to say at this point they will not include what was a clear confession?

Secretary Guevarra: I do not dictate upon the NBI as to how it should conduct its investigation. I have no info on whether the NBI has in fact completed its probe; that’s why i’m asking for a progress report.

Q: Sir if factual lang po. If the probe is about smuggled vaccine, and someone is openly saying he had the smuggled vaccine and knows where it came from, factually – is that person not automatically relevant?

Secretary Guevarra: Yes, it is relevant. But if the NBI has already established the sources and distribution channels of unauthorized vaccines in the market, the additional information may be a surplusage. If you have 10 witnesses in court testifying on the same thing, you need not present all of them. That’s why I’m leaving it to the NBI to make that determination; they have been investigating this matter since late last year.

Q: Understood your point on not needing all witnesses, but how about potential liability?

Secretary Guevarra: I have explained this before. Under our existing laws, a private person who voluntarily agrees to be inoculated with an unregistered vaccine is answerable only to himself. But a higher sense of ethical responsibility is demanded of a public officer who is expected not only to follow but also to uphold the law.

Q: He’s special envoy sir. A special envoy who wanted to distribute and had high level meeting with the president to the point that he can question the discretion of the vaccine czar and the FDA.

Secretary Guevarra: As secretary of justice who should be the last person to determine a person’s criminal liability, I am constrained to refrain from making any comment that may be construed as a prejudgment on a case which is not even before my office. I hope you understand.

Rappler.com

Lian Buan

Lian Buan covers justice and corruption for Rappler. She is interested in decisions, pleadings, audits, contracts, and other documents that establish a trail. If you have leads, email lian.buan@rappler.com or tweet @lianbuan.