POSTSCRIPT / December 31, 2020 / Thursday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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All the President’s men absolve him

DO you hear “All the President’s Men” singing their now-familiar chorus that President Duterte is blameless, that no law was violated when his praetorian guards and a Cabinet official were inoculated with a COVID-19 vaccine not yet approved by the Food and Drug Administration?

Official disclosures and admissions have confirmed that some soldiers, including the President’s security men, and at least one Cabinet member have received COVID-19 vaccines that did not have the required emergency use approval (EUA) stamp of the FDA.

With the basic issue of Duty hanging over the head of the President who, despite his having solemnly sworn to execute the law, allowed the use of unauthorized vaccines, several of his subalterns have been falling over each other shielding and absolving him.

A few officials – one of them FDA Director-General Eric Domingo – have not joined the chorus as of this writing. Others who earlier denied the secret inoculation of chosen vaccinees are now saying they knew but saw nothing wrong with it.

When Domingo said in a meeting Saturday that FDA would be stricter in evaluating vaccines from China because these have not yet been approved by counterparts in other countries, Duterte said: “I have to be frank, I have to tell the truth. I will not foist a lie. Many (soldiers) have been vaccinated.” So Duterte knew all along the status of China’s vaccine candidates.

But even if there have been perceived violations of law and procedures, who – in all the three branches of government and among the weary public — would dare call down Duterte when he claims to be acting for the greater good of the people?

While most people (91 percent?) reportedly tell pollsters that they are entering the new year with hope, apparently choosing to endure the dreary atmosphere rather than complain and invite more trouble, a chorus of praise is welling up in the crowd around the President.

Brig. Gen. Jesus Durante III, commander of the presidential security group, virtually took a bullet for his Commander-in-Chief, absolving him of liability for the unauthorized vaccination. He did not have to act like a judge because Duterte, a former prosecutor, can take care of himself.

The general said in a radio interview: “From the very beginning he (Duterte) wanted it… he was surprised when he learned that some of my personnel were already inoculated. Actually, we told him after the fact, the close-in personnel were already inoculated.”

Since only a few of his men were vaccinated, he said he did not consult the health department. He added, “I could say it’s one of the safest vaccines, because we researched about it.” The military now does its own scientific research on the efficacy and safety of new vaccines!

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana disclosed elsewhere that the President knew about the vaccination a month earlier. He declined to say who ordered the inoculation, or which vaccine was used.

The secretary would only say: “The vaccine has been approved, tried and found to be effective in the country of origin.” It has been widely reported to be Sinopharm of China.

On comments that the inoculation without FDA approval was illegal, DILG Secretary Eduardo Año said that RA 9711 prohibits only the manufacture, importation, exportation, sale, offering for sale, distribution, transfer, non-consumer use of unregistered pharma products.

Like Senate President Tito Sotto before him, Año said the taking of medicine of one’s choice or the receiving of a vaccine not licensed by the FDA is not a crime. The senator added that even suicide is not a crime since there is no law against it.

Other defenders of the President said the vaccine was not bought with public funds but donated (although the donor was not identified) and that the soldiers volunteered themselves.

Although it was a gift, according to presidential spokesman Harry Roque, the government personnel (the soldier) receiving the vaccine is not guilty of graft and corruption under RA 3019, because it has only a “token value”. He dropped the discussion when pressed.

Meanwhile, the Philippine Medical Association, through its president Dr. Benito Atienza, has asked for the list of the soldiers vaccinated. He said the next necessary step is to monitor their condition for any reaction to the vaccine.

No official has said it, but we assume that the inoculation of the soldiers was part of Phase 2-3 clinical trials that China has been asking Duterte to allow among Filipinos prior to its vaccines’ possible use for mass inoculation if the FDA approves its safety and efficacy.

There is speculation that Duterte is throwing obstacles to the entry of US-developed vaccines, such as that of Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, to open the door wider for Chinese vaccines even if these are more expensive and of lower efficacy.

On Saturday, Duterte dared the US government to deliver at least 20 million doses of vaccines to the Philippines otherwise he would terminate the Phl-US Visiting Forces Agreement that allows the rotational presence of American soldiers in the country.

After the President revealed the injection of Filipino troops with Chinese vaccines without proper EUA, his coterie appeared to become more disposed to talk about it — in his defense.

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*FOOTNOTE: Used here merely as a tag for our entirely different local narrative, “All the President’s Men” is the common title of the 1974 non-fiction book and the 1976 political drama film on the “Watergate scandal” that helped pressure President Nixon to resign in 1974 as he faced almost certain impeachment and removal from office.

Nixon was later pardoned under Proclamation 4311 issued by his successor President Ford on Sept. 8, 1974, granting “a full and unconditional pardon for any crimes that he might have committed against the United States as president.”

(First published in the Philippine STAR of January 3, 2021)

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Dear Sir Pascual, So, not only did CIC Duterte knew about the pre-meditated (planned) inoculation of certain security personnel and gov't official - and did nothing - he even lied about knowing it. And the worst part is people just accepted it without being appalled at the blatant cover-up and subsequent lying - not even "plausible deniability". We really deserve the government we are getting. What a bunch of fools we are.

Edgar

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