MANILA — Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte directed the head of his military detail on Monday to ignore a legislative summons, foiling the Senate’s attempt to probe his guards for inoculating themselves with an unauthorized COVID-19 vaccine.
The Senate plans to conduct an inquiry into the government’s vaccination plan next week and some senators want the head of the Presidential Security Group (PSG) to appear and explain the unit’s actions, which they said were illegal.
“Do not obey the summons,” Duterte told PSG chief Brigadier General Jesus Durante in a late-night televised address. “I am ordering you to stay put in the barracks.”
Durante last week said a handful of unit members used the vaccine “in good faith” because they could not afford to wait for regulatory approval, adding the president was only informed afterwards. He did not name the vaccine used or say how it was obtained.
Duterte, who has commended his security detail for their “loyalty and courage” in inoculating themselves, said they did it for “self-preservation”.
“I am prepared to defend my soldiers. I will not allow them, for all of their good intention, to be brutalized in the hearing,” Duterte said.
His spokesman, Harry Roque said, the military detail broke no laws.
“The president is saluting the PSG for what they did. They risked their lives to protect our president,” Roque told a media briefing.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana last week called the PSG’s move “justified” even as he said the vaccines they gave themselves as far back as September, without his knowledge, had been smuggled into the Philippines.
The Philippines Food and Drug Administration has not approved a COVID-19 vaccine – making the importation, distribution and sale of a COVID-19 vaccine at illegal – and warned of potential dangers from using vaccines it has not cleared.
It has said it was working with the Bureau of Customs to determine how the vaccines were brought into the country.
—Reporting by Karen Lema; Editing by Martin Petty and Alex Richardson