MANILA, Philippines — Sen. Richard Gordon on Wednesday said Chinese nationals in the country who have been inoculated with unauthorized coronavirus vaccines can be deported for violating the law.
He said this after civic leader Teresita Ang-See's revealed during an online forum last Monday that over 100,000 Chinese nationals, most of whom are Philippine offshore gaming operators (POGO) workers, received unregulated jabs in December.
Presidential spokesman Harry Roque the following day said that while he could not confirm the information, it would be "good" if it was true. "One hundred thousand less possible carriers of the COVID-19," he said during a virtual briefing.
But for Gordon, such "pilosopo" (wise guy) answers from Malacañang are unacceptable.
"There’s a law. They’re foreigners, they come in here, they should test [vaccines] within [what] the precepts and the law requires and if they don’t do that, they’re in violation and they can be deported," he told ANC's "Headstart."
In a message to reporters last Monday, Justice Secretary Guevarra explained that a person who voluntarily gets inoculated with an unregistered vaccine may not be held liable under existing laws unless he or she caused its unlawful procurement. But he stressed that although vaccination is for personal survival, “it is important that laws on vaccine approval and administration be strictly observed for the benefit of everyone.”
"[W]hen it comes to something that the public is going to use...the law requires that there be testing done by the [Food and Drug Administration], certification by the FDA. Any health product must be registered in the FDA before it can be imported, distributed, used, and administered. Here, they used it and they administered it and distributed it, all in violation of the law," Gordon said.
Ang-See said she first heard of the vaccinations because one of the recipients was infected with coronavirus even after receiving the jab and complained. While she raised concerns over the legal ramifications of the effort, she also said that she was "glad they are being vaccinated because it protects us also if they are protected."
But Gordon said Wednesday: [E]ven if there’s success, [in the inoculation], well, I don’t care, they violated the law. As simple as that. They've been violating the law left and right."
The lax response coming from Malacañang is not surprising, considering that the Presidential Security Group dominated national conversation just last month after President Rodrigo Duterte revealed that they had been inoculated with smuggled Sinopharm vaccines.
Amid the backlash over the revelation and contradicting statements from top officials over the legality of the effort, Duterte instructed his security detail to "shut up" on the matter if they are called to testify before Congress. His spokesman also asked the public to stop talking about the PSG's illegal vaccination drive.
This caused Senate President Tito Sotto to say that the PSG's inoculation effort was no longer on the agenda for the then-upcoming probe scheduled on January 11.
"That is why I cautioned the president: I think it's natural for him to be protective of his security but [on] the other hand, he cannot stop the separation of powers," Gordon said.
"They have crossed the line...and it would be well within the rights of the Congress, both lower and upper house, to be able to find out what happened here."
Guevarra last Monday announced that the National Bureau of Investigation would probe the reported “importation, sale, offering for sale, distribution, administration, and inoculation of COVID-19 vaccines that are not authorized by or registered with the Food and Drug Administration.”
The NBI is also ordered to file appropriate charges against all persons involved and found responsible for any unlawful act if evidence warrants.
In addition to the NBI, the FDA is also looking into the matter. The Armed Forces of the Philippines initially said it would look into the PSG's use of smuggled vaccines but called off the probe before it even began following a directive from Duterte. — Bella Perez-Rubio