Lorenzana admits Sinopharm vaccines used by Duterte’s security detail were smuggled

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.’

AdChoiceTV News — Amid continued uproar over the unauthorized inoculation of the president’s top men, National Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana on Thursday confirmed that the COVID-19 vaccines used by the Presidential Security Group entered the country illegally.

“Yes, it’s smuggled,” Lorenzana told AdChoiceTV News, referring to the Sinopharm vaccines used by the PSG, during a ceremony held in commemoration of Rizal Day.

Because its not authorized to enter here. Only the government can authorize that through the [Food and Drug Administration],” he further explained.

‘I don’t know’

While Lorenzana knows the vaccines were smuggled, he copped to not knowing much else.

“As far as we knew then, the rumor spreading was that PSG had already been vaccinated. Who authorized it, we did not ask. It is only now that those facts are coming out that the vaccine is not yet authorized in the Philippines,” he added in Filipino.

No coronavirus vaccine has been approved by the country’s FDA — any inoculation effort thus far would have made use of an unauthorized vaccine. It is unclear if Lorenzana knows this.

In keeping with every single official questioned over the matter, Lorenzana maintained that he also did not know who gave the Sinopharm doses to government officials.

Despite his position as defense secretary, he was also unwilling to weigh in on the PSG’s invocation of its duty to defend the president to justify its bypassing of the law. “I don’t know the answer to that,” he said in Filipino when asked about the matter.

Illegal but ‘justified’?

When asked if he would take action on the matter as defense secretary, Lorenzana implied that he would not be doing much at all. “PSG just really need to explain why they did that. It is justified. Anyway, the vaccine is not fake, it is real,” he said.

Again, it is unclear why Lorenzana made this pronouncement regarding the Sinopharm vaccine. While it has received authorization for emergency use in some countries including the United Arab Emirates, Argentina and Morocco, the Peruvian government suspended its own trials citing a “serious adverse event” which occurred among the volunteers of its study. In addition to this, the Philippines has not conducted its own trials for the Sinopharm jabs and is not expected to receive any vaccines at all until March 2021.

“Maybe explain that to the FDA because they violated the FDA rules,” the defense chief said in Filipino. FDA chief Eric Domingo said the move was done without consulting them or the health department, and even Secretary Francisco Duque III was surprised to find about the development.

Bureau of Customs spokesperson Vincent Maronilla said no communications were made to them that vaccines would be transported inside borders but stopped short of calling them smuggled, citing a lack of details. But, he recognized that if the items were misdeclared, it would be tantamount to technical smuggling — or, as defined by law in the Philippines, importing goods through “fraudulent, falsified or erroneous declarations.”

Adding to public confusion, Brig. Gen. Jesus P. Durante, PSG commander, during an interview with ANC’s “Headstart” on Thursday refused to reveal exactly how many members of the president’s security detail have been inoculated. He also refused to reveal if he was among those who received the unregulated vaccine.

Immediately following Lorenzana’s acknowledgement of the smuggling of the Sinopharm vaccines into the country, Sen. Francis Pangilinan slammed it as a continued consequence of what he called the lack of a coherent and equitable game plan on the control and management of the disease.

“It is unfortunate that even though there is vaccine czar [Carlito] Galvez who I believe is capable and should be in charge of the vaccine rollout, officials are still acting individually and have conflicting explanations on legality,” he said in Filipino.

“We cannot do this individually. The lives of millions of our countrymen are at stake. The livelihoods of millions of our hungry countrymen also depend on economic recovery which depends on the proper implementation of the vaccine rollout nationwide. We can’t make mistakes here,” Pangilinan added. — via Letizia Tinoco / AdChoiceTV News

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