Army chief says troop vaccination authorized by Duterte

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, December 28) — The chief of the Philippine Army revealed in a radio interview Monday that some members of the military were inoculated with a still unregistered COVID-19 vaccine on orders from "the chain of command of the armed forces," indicating it was authorized by President Rodrigo Duterte himself.

"Of course, our President is our commander-in-chief sa AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines). I should say it's from the chain of command of the Armed Forces," Philippine Army Chief Lt. Gen. Cirilito Sobejana said in an interview over DWIZ, when asked if the decision to vaccinate some military men came from higher-ups in the AFP or Malacañang.

Army Spokesman Col. Demy Zagala also told CNN Philippines the "vaccination occurred by the direction of the chain of command, headed by our commander-in-chief, the President."

This is contrary, however, to what Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said in a noontime briefing. When asked if the go signal came from the President, Roque said, "I don't think so po. It must have been the decision of the commanders and the soldiers."

In his address to the nation Saturday, Duterte bared that a number of military men already received the Chinese vaccine Sinopharm, which has not yet been given regulatory approval by the country's Food and Drug Administration.

Sobejana confirmed some AFP members have been vaccinated, but added he doesn't know from which firm the vaccines are.

Meanwhile, Presidential Security Group Commander Jesus Durante III said Duterte's close-in security personnel were the first ones among military men to be immunized. This is to ensure members of the PSG "are not themselves threat to the President's health and safety," Durante said.

READ: PSG members got vaccinated first to 'protect' Duterte from COVID-19

Besides the military, some unnamed Cabinet officials have also been vaccinated, according to Interior Secretary Eduardo Año.

Following these reports, FDA Director General Eric Domingo reiterated in a statement the agency's warning against the use of unauthorized vaccines, saying their safety, quality, and efficacy are not guaranteed.

"Vaccines will only be approved if there is reasonable scientific evidence to show that benefit outweighs risk," Domingo stressed.

RELATED: Expert: Stay away from 'dangerous' unauthorized COVID-19 vaccines

But Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque defended the military, saying soldiers willingly received the vaccines. He also noted that the vaccines were likely donated by an unidentified source.

In the vaccination road map laid out by vaccine czar Carlito Galvez Jr., troops and police are fifth in line to receive vaccines. Frontline health workers were supposed to be the first priority in the program. They are followed by indigent senior citizens, other senior citizens, remaining indigent population, then the uniformed personnel — as constantly reiterated by Duterte. With the recent development, troops were bumped up to receive the first doses of vaccines that reached the Philippines.

CNN Philippines correspondent David Santos contributed to this report.