Makabayan bloc to seek House probe on covert 'VIP' vaccination

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, December 30) — As the Duterte administration opts to keep mum on the details of the Presidential Security Group's covert inoculation, the Makabayan bloc is set to file a resolution to investigate the vaccination activity that allegedly circumvented the country's vaccination priority plan and breached laws.

The opposition lawmakers in the House said they plan to file the resolution in the first week of January following the revelation that all of President Rodrigo Duterte's security detail have been injected with an unlicensed COVID-19 vaccine from Chinese firm Sinopharm.

The solons are enraged that members of the military were the first to receive the doses when healthcare workers are the supposed priority in the government's vaccination program. Interior Secretary Eduardo Año also revealed in a TV interview that he knows of at least one Cabinet member who also received the unregistered vaccine.

"Totoo naman pala ang sinasabi ni President Duterte na may bakuna na, 'yun nga lang hindi para sa masa at sa mga frontline health workers kundi para sa militar at may kapangyarihan," Gabriela Party-list Rep. Arlene Brosas told a media briefing on Tuesday.

[Translation: President Duterte was right when he said there is already a vaccine. However it was not for the public or the healthcare workers, but for the military and those in power.]

ACT Teachers Rep. France Castro hit the "VIP treatment" given to those who serve the administration. Government officials were previously criticized for receiving undue priority in testing when COVID-19 test kit supplies were scarce.

"Nagkakagulangan na naman ba?" Castro remarked. "Sinalaula ng Duterte administration ang kanya mismong sariling roadmap at naging makasarili. Talagang hindi mawawala ang VIP treatment sa administrasyon ni Duterte."

[Translation: Are they taking advantage again? He didn't honor his own roadmap due to selfishness. You cannot take away VIP treatment in the Duterte administration.]

In the vaccine roadmap crafted by vaccine czar Carlito Galvez Jr., the police and military are only fifth in line to receive vaccines after healthcare workers, indigent senior citizens, other elderlies, and poor families.

The legislators said the government also broke laws since the Food and Drug Administration Act states that those who import, sell, or distribute any unregistered health product may face the penalty of imprisonment or fines.

Castro said they will demand for transparency in the probe as there could be corruption issues in the activity that was hidden from the public for several weeks. But Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque downplayed the issue that receiving the donated shots meant violation of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act, which bans government officials and employees from receiving gifts "directly or indirectly" from private persons or entities.

"'Yung mga tokens po, pinapayagan naman lalo na kung panahon ng Pasko. Pwede po ang tokens, 'yung mga wala masyadong halaga," Roque said in a media briefing on Tuesday.

[Translation: Tokens can be accepted especially during the Christmas season. Tokens are allowed especially if the items are of little value.]

The FDA and the Department of Health admitted that the covert vaccination activity was not coordinated with them, adding the donated vaccines need to secure government clearance.