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Even Philippine embassy in China clueless about vaccines for PSG

Even the Philippine embassy in China, active for months in coordinating with vaccine developers there, was kept in the dark about the vaccines that found their way to President Rodrigo Duterte's security detail.

Philippine Ambassador to China Chito Santa Romana said he had no clue about how vaccines developed by Chinese state-run Sinopharm reached the Presidential Security Group (PSG).

"I have no knowledge about it. We're also curious to know but unfortunately we were not involved," he said on Monday, January 4, during a Malacañang news briefing.

"We're not in the loop in this matter," he added.

Two Cabinet members also told Rappler they were not informed about the Sinopharm vaccines even though one Cabinet member had supposedly received it.

Roque: Details of PSG vaccination 'immaterial'

Meanwhile, Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque spent a good portion of the press conference dodging questions about who gave PSG access to such a sparse and valuable resource as a COVID-19 vaccine.

He tried to say it was irrelevant, even as senators, health officials, the military, the National Bureau of Investigation, and Vice President Leni Robredo called for probes into the matter.

Asked to provide more details for the sake of transparency to the public, Roque said, "No, it's not a fair question. It's immaterial. Ang material dito, sinugal nila ang mga buhay nila para protekahin ang Presidente. Full stop. That's their business." (What is material here is that they gambled with their lives to protect the President.)

The Duterte spokesman said the PSG, led by its commander Brigadier General Jesus Durante III, were ready to face "any punishment" for their actions.

Asked if protecting the President justified breaking the country's laws on use of health products, Roque said, "I don't think it was a mistake to protect the President."

Senate interference?

Malacañang expressed thinly veiled disapproval for plans in the Senate to conduct a hearing about the PSG vaccination mystery.

Roque implied that holding the hearing goes against mutual respect between the legislative and executive branches of government.

"Hindi ko maintindihan bakit panghihimasukan ng Senado, ang co-equal branch ng government, ang seguridad ng ating Presidente eh gayoong hindi naman pinanghihimasukan ng Presidente and seguridad ng Senado. So siguro po, mutual respect for co-equal branches of government," he said.

(I don't understand why the Senate, a co-equal branch of government, is interfering with the security of our President when the President doesn't interfere with the security of the Senate. I guess, mutual respect for co-equal branches of government.)

The spokesman said he does not know if Duterte will instruct Durante to attend any Senate hearing.

The Food and Drug Administration Act of 2009 states that, among others, it is illegal to distribute, transfer, promote, or use for non-consumer purposes any health product, like a vaccine, that is unregistered with the FDA.

FDA Director General Eric Domingo has said that administering an unregistered product is also illegal.

Durante had earlier claimed that PSG personnel "independently" vaccinated themselves with the Sinopharm jabs and claimed Duterte had no knowledge of the plan beforehand. – Rappler.com

Pia Ranada

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 pia.ranada@rappler.com.

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