President Rodrigo Duterte‘s preference for soldiers was once again brought into question after he mentioned that he would like to include their families in the government’s priority list of vaccination against the coronavirus disease.
The chief executive expressed his intention to provide the families of the police and the military free COVID-19 vaccine last Friday.
“So ‘yung lahat sabi ko una ‘yung mga mahirap. Iyon talagang mga mahirap na isang tuka, isang kahig. Unahin ko ‘yon pati ‘yung uniformed service kasi eh, kung paano kung magkasakit itong lahat. Paano… how can we function a government with a sick soldier or policeman in your midst,” Duterte said in a speech to the military on Jolo, Sulu.
“So ang sunod niyan is mauna kayo. And if the Secretary Galvez would… sabihin ko sa kanya kasali na ‘yung pamilya ninyo. Magpunta ‘yung mag-inject sa mga kampo, tuturukan pati ‘yung mga anak ninyo. So ito lahat, libre ito. So that you would depend… Para hindi kayo mag-worry kung nandiyan na, na ano kayang mangyari,” he added.
In the government’s vaccine priority list, there is no explicit mention of the uniformed personnel’s family.
The list orders frontline health workers, indigent senior citizens, remaining senior citizens, the remaining indigent population and uniformed personnel as the top five.
Uniformed personnel includes the Armed Forces of the Philippines, the Philippine National Police, the Philippine Coast Guard, the Bureau of Fire Protection and the Citizen Armed Force Geographical Unit.
Others who are next in line are teachers and school workers (public and private), all government workers (national and local), essential workers in agriculture, food industry, transportation and tourism, sociodemographic groups at higher risk other than seniors and the indigents (persons deprived of liberty, persons with disabilities and Filipinos in high-density areas), overseas Filipino workers, other remaining workforce and then students.
The Palace denied that there would be changes in the priority list following Duterte’s remarks. It said that it only serves as a supposed expansion of the government’s existing order of preference.
“I think there is no change,” presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said in his Monday briefing.
“He is only expanding it to include soldiers’ families and that’s out of recognition for the important role they place in the maintenance of peace and order in society,” he added.
Roque did not mention further details but said that it would be up to the government’s coronavirus task force to “operationalize” and implement the vaccination drive.
He cited that COVID-19 vaccine supply would be enough for 24 million Filipinos.
“If at all, maybe the list would see an additional two million if there are three members of the family of the men in uniform,” he said.
“But we are already expecting extras from the vaccines that could arrive by the second or third quarter of the year,” Roque added.
Some Filipinos did not welcome Duterte’s remarks about the soldier’s families being included in the priority list. They questioned his preference for the uniformed personnel who are not on the foremost frontline of the battle against the viral disease.
“Duterte says soldiers’ families to be given priority for COVID-19 vaccine. What a slap on the faces of the true heroes right now, the medical frontline workers,” a Twitter user said in response to the reports.
“Ay nagkanda-loko-loko na ang prioritization,” Dr. Peter Cayton of the University of the Philippines’ COVID-19 Pandemic Response Team tweeted.
“Di ko gets bakit laging soldiers or pulis ang may sacrifices these days… Hindi ba health workers? Or employees? Halos nga red-tagging lagi ginagawa ng mga soldiers na ‘yan!” another Twitter user exclaimed, referencing the previous red-tagging of a military official to prominent universities in the metro.
Healthcare workers and those in the medical field are the ones on the foremost frontlines of the battle against COVID-19 since it is primarily a case of public health emergency.
Duterte has been repeatedly saying that health workers, the marginalized and those who are most vulnerable will receive COVID-19 vaccines first.
However, the president has also proclaimed that uniformed personnel would be prioritized, consistent with his preference towards the military and the police in the course of his presidency.
Earlier this month, Duterte defended the illegal vaccination of his close-in security personnel and said that it was done “in good faith” and for “self-preservation.”
Roque also said that the Presidential Security Group had “risked their lives” to supposedly protect the chief executive amid a public health crisis.
The Food and Drug Administration has not yet approved any vaccine for emergency authorization use at that time.
Duterte’s preference towards uniformed personnel extends to his consistent appointment of its former officials to top leadership positions in the coronavirus task force instead of experts in science and the medical field.
Secretary Carlito Galvez, who is the appointed vaccine czar tasked to oversee vaccination deals, is a retired general of the Philippine Army.