Provincial execs cutting in vaccination line brings back VIP testing controversy online

March 24, 2021 - 7:14 PM
Philippine Army Commanding General Jose Faustino Jr., gets vaccinated with Sinovac Biotech’s Coronavac, at the national headquarters of the Philippine Army in Fort Bonifacio, Taguig City, Metro Manila, Philippines, March 2, 2021. (Reuters/Eloisa Lopez)

The VIP testing controversy resurfaced on social media following the recent reports of local officials getting inoculated with COVID-19 vaccine ahead of health workers.

Five local chief executives were reportedly issued a show cause order for jumping in the queue of the government’s priority list for coronavirus vaccine jabs.

These local officials are:

  • Tacloban City Mayor Mayor Alfred Romualdez in Leyte
  • T’boli Mayor Dibu Tuan in South Cotabato
  • Niño Mayor Sulpicio Villalobos in South Cotabato
  • Legaspi City Mayor Noel Rosal in Albay
  • Bataraza Mayor Abraham Ibba in Palawan

READ: Calls for accountability after Tacloban mayor jumped in line to receive COVID-19 jab at home

Based on the priority list, mayors, governors and barangay captains can only be vaccinated after health workers, senior citizens and persons with comorbidities completed their vaccination.

Some politicians’ getting jabs before health workers drew heavy criticisms on social media.

To some, they were reminiscent of the situation in the same month last year when high-ranking officials and their families including President Rodrigo Duterte and his family were given access to Reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) tests amid lack of test kit supply.

Under DOH’s triage system, those who are not experiencing any COVID-19 symptoms but are exposed to an infected patient are advised to self-quarantine only.

In discussions on Reddit, one user resurfaced the screenshot of a form that contains names of government officials and their spouses who have undergone swab tests.

One year ago today, concerns about VIP testing for COVID-19 emerged. A form containing the names of high officials (some with their spouses) for testing has surfaced online. This led to criticisms against officials getting tested amid the shortage of testing kits. from Coronavirus_PH

Another user also posted the letter that Health Secretary Francisco Duque III sent to the director of the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine, which was the only testing center that time, over a year ago.

One year ago today, a document dated Mar. 21, ‘20 meant to replace the director of RITM Dr. Celia Carlos has surfaced online. The document drew criticisms to DOH Sec. Francisco Duque III due to the issue of VIP testing (RITM was the sole testing center at the time). from Coronavirus_PH

Local artist Kevin Eric Raymundo or Tarantadong Kalbo, meanwhile, shared a witty, satirical artwork about the new “VIP vaccination.”

He also used the “bakunahan” which translates to “vaccination” in English and highlighted  “bak + unahan.” “Unahan” translate to race or getting ahead in English.

Other prominent individuals who received COVID-19 vaccines

More provincial officials were later revealed to have jumped in the vaccination queue, according to provincial papers The Bohol Chronicle and Sunstar Cebu. 

These are:

  1. Mayor Elanito Peña (Minglanilla in Cebu)
  2. Mayor Victoriano Torres (Alicia in Bohol)
  3. Mayor Virgilio Mendez (San Miguel in Bohol)
  4. Mayor Arturo Piollo II (Lila in Bohol)

A vaccine monitoring group called Bantay Bakuna posted on March 23 that they received reports of some police officers cutting in line in a vaccination site in Quezon City.

Quezon City reportedly refuted the report of the group and said that these PNP personnel are health frontliners too.

The next day, actor Mark Anthony Fernandez reportedly got inoculated with the COVID-19 vaccine in Parañaque City on March 24.

In an interview with ANC,  Parañaque City Mayor Edwin Olivarez said Fernandez has “comorbidities” that made him eligible to be prioritized for COVID-19 vaccination.

Meanwhile, some Filipinos also remembred the immunization of members of the Presidential Security Group using smuggled vaccines last year.

“Bakit yung mga PSG nabakunahan nun, diba dapat iligal yun kasi wala pang vaccine dito,” one user said.  

One Reddit user shared how the patronage of politicians in the provinces run deep.

“I’m just disappointed that some people give politicians an excuse. Patronage politics is a problem in the NCR, but in the provinces the scale of patronage is almost feudal,” the user said.

Journalist Barnaby Lo, meanwhile, warned that the government might lose the COVAX facility donations should these reports reach the World Health Organization.

“We might lose our access to WHO’s COVAX facility after revelations of officials and connected people cutting the line. Sa donasyon nga lang tayo umaasa eh. What a tragedy that would be,” he wrote.