Presidential Security Group commander Brigadier General Jesus Durante III on Tuesday admitted that his unit acquired the COVID-19 vaccine for free, but demurred on disclosing its source.
In Joseph Morong's exclusive report for "24 Oras," Durante said the PSG made the decision to get inoculated and President Rodrigo Duterte was only made aware of it after the fact.
He also said the PSG itself did the research on which vaccine to acquire for the close-in security personnel around the president.
"We've done our research about it so we made by all means, we were able to acquire itong vaccine na ito for our unit alone. Wala kaming intent na ipakalat 'yun sa iba," he said.
Durante refused to say who gave them the vaccine.
"Hindi ko rin masabi actually eh kung saan namin nakuha 'yun, source namin, but maybe someday you'll find out, you'll know someday. For now, huwag muna, it could jeopardize itong vaccination program, procurement ng government natin," he said.
The Philippines' Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has yet to approve any COVID-19 vaccine. Amid this new controversy, the agency said that donations of the vaccine still require clearances, and said that the PSG's procurement of them was a breach of the regulatory process.
Durante defended his unit's circumventing the rules, saying they got vaccinated to protect the President from the virus.
The PSG chief added that Duterte himself is not yet inoculated and still waiting for a "perfect and appropriate" vaccine.
"Kahit hindi siya nakabakuna pero ang mga nakapaligid sa kanya ay naka-vaccine naman, mas safe siya," Durante said.
The issue came to light after Duterte on Saturday said that some Filipino soldiers were already inoculated with the vaccine developed by Chinese pharmaceutical company Sinopharm.
Durante would neither confirm nor deny that this was the brand they used.
"What I can tell you is that the vaccine is one of the safest and it's very traditional, it's a traditional platform and one of the safest platforms being used right now," he said.
According to GMA News Research, China's Sinovac, Sinopharm Beijing, and Sinopharm Wuhan, as well as India's Bharat Biotech, are among the vaccines currently on Phase 3 of the clinical trials that use the traditional platform or the inactivated virus.
Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said the vaccine given to the PSG was a donation, but he did not specify the source.
Republic Act 3019 or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act prohibits public officials from receiving gifts, but Roque said this is not "absolute."
"Hindi po 'yan absolute, 'yung mga tokens po pinapayagan, lalo na kung panahon ng Pasko. Puwede pong tokens. 'Yung mga walang masyadong halaga," he said.
Pressed whether COVID-19 vaccine shots for several PSG personnel are "tokens," Roque reiterated that they were donated.
"I don't think it's of much value anyway," he said. "It was not paid for, so it is a donation but that's all that I know."
Interior Secretary Eduardo Año also said that he knew of one Cabinet member who has already been vaccinated.
The Department of Health has emphasized that only vaccines that have been approved by the FDA should be administered. — Marisse Panaligan/BM, GMA News