Philippines: Duterte Says He Will Tell Guards to ‘Shut Up’ if Asked About Vaccine Smuggling

In this photo provided by the Malacanang Presidential Photographers Division, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte delivers his State of the Nation Address (SONA) while Senate President Vicente Sotto III, left, and House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano listen at the House of Representative in Metro Manila, Philippines, Monday, July 27, 2020. (Simeon …
Simeon Celi Jr./Malacanang Presidential Photographers Division via AP

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday warned the national legislature not to probe his bodyguards about an unauthorized coronavirus vaccine candidate they received last fall, Philippine news site Rappler reported Tuesday.

The Congress of the Philippines, the Philippines’ National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) all announced plans to investigate the Philippines’ Presidential Security Group (PSG) in recent days after learning on December 28 that the unit received an unauthorized coronavirus vaccine candidate “smuggled” into the country as early as September, in violation of regulations set by the Philippines’ Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The vaccine candidate was developed by the Chinese state pharmaceutical company Sinopharm.

Duterte urged the Philippine Congress on Monday not to compel his guards to divulge details about the unauthorized vaccine candidate they received in September and October of last year.

“Do not tinker with the PSG. Do not force my hand to meddle into this affair. Maybe I am not so keen allowing Durante [PSG chief Brigadier General Jesus Durante III] and the rest of the PSG to testify,” he said during a televised speech in Davao City.

“I would just ask the PSG to just shut up, do not answer. Invoke the right against self-incrimination. Do not force my soldiers to testify against their will,” Duterte, a former Davao City prosecutor, advised.

“They have every right to live and invoke self-preservation. In criminal law, that is the right to self-defense. The enemy? COVID [Chinese coronavirus],” he argued.

“Do not obey the summons. … I am ordering you to stay put in the barracks,” the president told PSG chief Durante later in the speech.

Duterte’s remarks on Monday night appeared to successfully ward off at least one governmental probe into the PSG by the next day. The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief of staff Gen. Gilbert Gapay announced Tuesday that he had called off the military’s investigation into PSG over its use of unauthorized Chinese coronavirus vaccine candidates.

“In a statement, AFP spokesperson Maj. Gen. Edgard Arevalo said the cancellation was due to the recent pronouncement of President Rodrigo Duterte, prohibiting the PSG to divulge details [about the vaccine candidate’s procurement],” the Philippine Inquirer reported Tuesday.

“The probe of the 10-member investigating team led by Lt. Gen. Franco Nemesio Gacal, the AFP’s Inspector General, was supposed to start on Tuesday, Jan. 5,” according to the newspaper.

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