The Bureau of Customs (BOC) on Tuesday said it did not receive any formal communication on the importation of COVID-19 vaccines administered to the Presidential Security Group (PSG), and administrative and civil cases could be filed to those involved should the medicines be proven smuggled.
According to BOC assistant commissioner and spokesperson Philip Vincent Maronilla, all COVID-19 vaccines that enter the country should secure the necessary permits from the Food and Drugs Administration (FDA), which already said it has not given any go-ahead for such medicines.
"'Pag ganyan pong mga klaseng produkto, kailangan po namin ng license to operate coming from the FDA or any provisional authority coming from the FDA," he said in an interview on GMA Super Radyo DZBB.
"'Yun po 'yung amin ngayong tinitignan sa aming mga records pero so far as vaccines being brought in for, again, the use of general public, wala pong na-communicate sa amin at wala pong na-indicate sa amin na instructions na ganon," added Maronilla.
President Rodrigo Duterte on Saturday claimed that a number of Filipinos — including members of the military, particularly the PSG — already had themselves inoculated with a COVID-19 vaccine from Chinese pharmaceutical company Sinopharm, even without approvals from the FDA.
The FDA — also investigating the issue — has since clarified that there is still no vaccine approved for general use in the Philippines, and it has not yet given licenses to distribute and dispense the vaccine.
"Kung mapapatunayan po na ito ay pinasok ng walang pahintulot ng pamahalaan at clearly smuggled, maari po silang kasuhan ng violation ng ating Customs Modernization Act or smuggling," Maronilla said.
"May mga certain special laws din po about bringing in illicit medicines na maaring ikaso sa kanila both civilly and criminally, at 'yung may mga lapses na mga opisyal natin, maaring i-hold administratively liable," he added.
Maronilla noted, however, that there may be instances that the importation of the vaccines could be justified, such as if there was provisional authority for the drug to enter the country for trials.
"Sabi nga ni USec. Eric Domingo, wala silang inapprove of any kind. If that is a complete statement that they did not approve of any kind of importation of vaccine, then wala po dapat nakapasok," he explained.
"But if ang statement ni USec. Domingo is that wala silang in-approve for the general use of the general public, iba po 'yung provisional use doon sa general use and that's something that we will have to clarify," added Maronilla.
The BOC is now looking into the possibility that the vaccines were brought in via air freight given the logistical and transportation concerns of vaccines. It is also possible that the vaccines were brought in by the military themselves, and no communication was given to the BOC.
"Halimbawa dumaan sa paliparan ng Armed Forces, 'yun naman po ay kadalasang kino-coordinate sa amin for Customs formalities, so we'll ask the other agencies that are capable of actually bringing this in, if indeed there are importations that we were not informed of and that are the details of these importations," Maronilla explained.
The PSG has since defended the inoculation of the COVID-19 vaccine to Duterte's close-in security even with the absence of the papers from the FDA, "to preserve the stability of our nation." The government has yet to announce any plans for vaccination programs for medical frontliners.
For its part, Malacañang has since claimed that the vaccination was not authorized by Duterte, but it was needed by the military for "protection," and something that the public should just accept.—AOL, GMA News