Palace questions calls in Senate to probe Sinopharm mess

Palace questions calls in Senate to probe Sinopharm mess
President Duterte is escorted by the Presidential Security Group during his arrival at the Batasang Pambansa for his State of the Nation Address on July 27, 2020. The AFP has confirmed that members of the PSG have been given vaccines ‘to ensure that the President is safe from all threats, including COVID-19.’

MANILA, Philippines — Palace on Monday made a repeated attempt to bury the illegal vaccination of the smuggled Sinopharm on security details of President Rodrigo Duterte, questioning calls in the Senate for a probe over widely criticized incident.

The administration has refused to give more details on the inoculation of members of the Presidential Security Group, with questions left unanswered as to how the doses were slipped inside the country with no jabs approved by local regulators yet.

In the Senate, Minority Leader Franklin Drilon had suggested that the chamber include the incident in its probe when it convenes as a Committee of the Whole this January to look into the government's vaccination program.

The lawmaker also said that BGen. Jesus Durante, who admitted on live television that they inoculated themselves alarming the Food and Drug Administration, be summoned in the Senate investigation.

It was not met well by Malacañang, which has insisted that the public instead move on and even going as far as praising the PSG for putting their lives on the line despite the blatant disregard for the law.

"Kung hindi naman pinanghihimasikan ng presidente kung paano nagpatutupad ng seguridad ang Senado, bakit naman panghihimasukan 'yung pagbibigay ng seguridad sa ating presidente?" presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said in a regular briefing.

(If the president does not interfere with how the Senate implements its security, why would the chamber then involve itself in matters of securing the chief executive?)

Such logic defies the country's laws on counterfeit drugs, including on smuggling, and the reasoning could stand to undermine ongoing probes by the justice department and the FDA, ironically, on a move by the administration.

At one point, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana called the incident as smuggling, but said the PSG's "good intentions" justified it.

Roque continued to say that "due respect" should be accorded to the executive, as it is a separate and co-equal branch of government, despite Congress exercising oversight function as part of the mechanism for checks and balances.

Over the weekend, Vice President Leni Robredo backed investigations over the Sinopharm inoculation, warning that it could strain efforts for the public to trust the COVID-19 vaccines and could send the message that smuggling can be justified if needed.

Despite moves to veer away from the issue and even shift the narrative, Malacañang continues to insist that they are not hiding anything — yet failing to give the full, and if ever, accurate picture on the incident.

State forces are among those supposedly prioritized by the administration in its promise to inoculate 24.7 million Filipinos early this year, but they are actually fifth in line, with health workers first followed by government workers and those most vulnerable to the COVID-19.

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