Suspect in 'vaccine for sale' scheme surrenders to PH authorities

Philippine authorities presented to media the suspect in the alleged illegal selling of government-procured COVID-19 vaccines on Wednesday, May 26 .

This came in the wake of reports that some people claiming to have connections with the city governments of Mandaluyong and San Juan were offering vaccine slots to netizens.

Mandaluyong Mayor Menchie Abalos and husband Benhur Abalos, chairman of the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA), identified Kyle Bonifacio as a suspect in the "vaccine for sale" scheme.

Menchie said Bonifacio turned himself in after his father, a barangay kagawad (village councilor), informed the Mandaluyong mayor about his son's involvement in the controversy.

"Tumawag sa akin iyong tatay noong gabi, at sabi ko 'Anak mo pala, hindi ko alam' (The father called me last night, and I said, 'I didn't know it was your son')," Menchie said.

"Hindi rin niya alam iyong ginagawa ng anak niya until pinuntahan siya ng ating kapulisan (The father didn't know his son's activities until the police visited him)," she claimed.

Bonifacio maintained during the briefing that he was innocent and denied that he has connections with local government units (LGUs). 

"Wala po akong connection sa LGU dahil isa lang po akong batang estudyante (I have no connection with the LGU because I am just a student)," he said.

"Hindi po talaga ako nagbenta. Pero iyong resibo na iyon, kusang bigay po sa akin noong taong iyon," Bonifacio added vaguely. He declined to clarify his statements, asserting he has the right to remain silent.

(I did not sell vaccine slots. But the receipt was given to me by a person.)

Businessman and Las Piñas resident Norman Rabaya, whose tweet about the alleged illegal selling of vaccines on May 21 caught the attention of Philippine authorities, confirmed to Rappler on May 26 that it was Bonifacio who offered him a vaccine slot in the city government of Mandaluyong.

It remains unclear whether the scheme was just an online scam.

"By [Thursday], you will see the investigation report. What is important is we have solved the problem right now," Benhur said in a mix of English and Filipino.

Bonifacio was turned over to police authorities later on Wednesday.

What has the government done?

The National Bureau of Investigation has launched an investigation into the fraudulent scheme. 

Mandaluyong and San Juan's local government units, which were tagged in the controversy, also promised to look into the matter. 

Both city governments on May 21 denied their LGUs were involved in the scheme.

Other LGUs have issued stern warnings against people who will be involved in the illegal selling of the COVID-19 jabs.

Malacañang has also urged local government units to pass local ordinances against the "vaccine for sale" scheme. 

Prior to the Palace’s call, Manila already signed an ordinance which prohibits any person or entity from engaging in the sale, distribution, or administration of COVID-19 vaccines for profit. Violators will face a P5,000 fine and jail time of up to six months.

Reports of alleged under-the-table sales of COVID-19 vaccines surfaced as only select sectors are allowed to get the vaccinations since the Philippines' immunization drive against the coronavirus began in March.

These sectors include health workers, senior citizens, persons with comorbidities, and governors and mayors.

Economic frontline workers and indigent Filipinos may be inoculated “after the month of May or when we have a steady supply,” vaccine czar Carlito Galvez Jr. said on May 18.

As of May 18, some 2.5 million Filipinos have received their first COVID-19 vaccine dose, according to the Department of Health. — Rappler.com