Lorenzana backs AFP decision to drop probe of PSG vaccinations
MANILA, Philippines—Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana on Tuesday (Jan. 5) said he supported the decision of Armed Forces of the Philippines chief of staff Gen. Gilbert Gapay to drop a plan to investigate the use by the Presidential Security Group (PSG) of a Chinese coronavirus vaccine that had not been approved by Philippine authorities.
“I support it. It is in compliance with the President’s statement last night,” Lorenzana said of Gapay’s decision to stop the investigation.
“In fact I told them at the start not to investigate,” he told Inquirer.net. But, he added, the AFP chief “has already said they will.”
Gapay canceled the investigation, which had been scheduled to start on Tuesday (Jan. 5), following President Rodrigo Duterte’s order to the PSG, his close-in security detail, not to divulge details about the vaccination and ignore Senate summons.
For Lorenzana, the issue was already “moot and academic and we will not engage in anymore discussion.”
“Let the concerned agencies pursue their investigations,” he said.
Although he admitted that the vaccines were smuggled, the defense secretary said last week that the PSG action was “justified” because it showed the PSG intent to protect the President from infection by getting vaccinated.
PSG commander Brig. Gen. Jesus Durante III earlier said that some of his unit’s members injected themselves with the vaccine in September and October. He did not disclose the manufacturer of the vaccine and its source.
It was Duterte who first revealed in December the use of vaccines from the Chinese state drug company Sinopharm by members of the Philippine military, including those in the PSG. But on Monday night (Jan. 4), Duterte said he had no knowledge of the vaccination.
Both Lorenzana and Gapay earlier claimed they did not know about the PSG’s vaccinations beforehand.
The Philippines’ Food and Drug Administration has yet to approve a coronavirus vaccine, making the importation and distribution of such as illegal.
While Duterte’s order appeared to be related to the Senate’s plan to summon the PSG commander in relation to the inquiry on the government’s vaccination plan, Gapay canceled the military’s own probe because it appeared to be Duterte’s wish.
“We should be able to read in (sic) between the lines,” said AFP spokesperson Maj. Gen. Edgard Arevalo.
In Filipino, Arevalo told reporters that Duterte’s message was clear—he did not want an investigation and that it was directed at Congress or the Senate.
He said the AFP, being under the Executive, “should be able to understand.”
“In the military, we call that commander’s intent,” Arevalo said.
He said the AFP need not be told directly by Duterte to stop the investigation “because he is our commander in chief.” “So if that’s what he’s saying, we don’t have to be told that the PSG should not attend,” Arevalo said.
If the military pursued an investigation without the participation of the PSG, as ordered by Duterte, then the probe would be an “exercise in futility,” he added.
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