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CONFLICT IN SEPARATION OF POWERS

Beyond executive privilege: Lawmakers press vaccine smuggling probe

/ 05:12 AM January 07, 2021

MANILA, Philippines — While President Rodrigo Duterte can legally stonewall a congressional probe into the controversial inoculation of the Presidential Security Group (PSG), Congress can still investigate the smuggling aspects of the case, according to Surigao del Norte Rep. Robert Ace Barbers.

“We should not stop with the probe on the issue of why the PSG inoculated themselves but more than that, look at who smuggled it in and how many vaccines were smuggled here, more or less,” said Barbers, chair of the House committee on dangerous drugs.

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“If there will be an investigation, we should look not only at the PSG but [also] the smuggling aspect of the vaccines. Second, who smuggled these? Because I am very sure that they have cohorts in the Bureau of Customs or other [people] involved in smuggling these illegal vaccines,” he added.

Barbers said he found nothing wrong in the President invoking executive privilege in a congressional probe into the apparently illegal inoculation of his bodyguards.

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Presidential prerogative

“The President has all the right to say that,” he said. “For me, that’s the opinion of the President and we respect that.”

But Barbers said authorities should focus on finding the source of the smuggled vaccines, rather than probe the PSG for its move, which was arguably to protect the President.

“If we have vaccine smuggling, then it might be worse than smuggling illegal drugs. Because you can sell these on the streets legally, in the guise of being legitimate vaccines,” he said.

Marikina Rep. Stella Luz Quimbo sought to look at the government’s COVID-19 vaccination program as a whole.

Quimbo on Wednesday filed House Resolution No. 1455, seeking to direct the House good government and public accountability panel to conduct an investigation in aid of legislation.

Bigger picture

The lawmaker wanted to know the status of the government’s vaccination program and the use of funds allocated for COVID-19 vaccines in the 2021 national budget.

Quimbo noted that the go­vernment is planning to borrow $300 million from the World Bank and $325 million from the Asian Development Bank to bankroll the vaccination program.

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“To roll out an effective vaccine program and alleviate the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, there is a need to ensure the cost-effectiveness of the vaccines to be procured in order to maximize resources, as well as to ensure proper distribution and long-term monitoring,” she said in a statement.

Quimbo pointed out that “a clear plan is needed for how to maximize available funds across vaccine types, and to provide guidance on the amount of funds still needed,” while identifying which brands are “most cost-­effective.”

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TAGS: Congress COVID-19 vaccine probe, coronavirus pandemic, coronavirus Philippines, Robert Ace Barbers, unauthorized COVID-19 vaccine, vaccine smuggling probe
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