Snake-oil excuses | Inquirer Opinion
Editorial

Snake-oil excuses

/ 05:07 AM January 03, 2021

So it appears the military, an organization that prizes discipline and adherence to the chain of command above all, is fine hosting renegades in its ranks. That’s the only impression to be had from the unalarmed, dismissive response by the high command, as well as by Malacañang and the defense department, to the jaw-dropping claim by Presidential Security Group chief Brigadier Gen. Jesus Durante III that on his own, without consulting his superiors or even the health department, he decided to have the close-in security of the President inoculated as early as September 2020 with a Chinese vaccine of yet-unproven efficacy and shady provenance.

The vaccine — President Duterte himself disclosed in a TV address that it was Sinopharm — was and is still unapproved for use in the Philippines by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA); it could only have become available to the PSG through smuggling, a fact the Bureau of Customs and the FDA both confirmed when the agencies admitted that no official shipment of the vaccine had gone through them. Durante said he and the PSG “did some research” before negotiating for the vaccine on their own and administering it on themselves “independently.” “We alone vaccinated ourselves,” he declared proudly. “It’s so easy.”

Durante expects the public to take him at his word—that he, all by his lonesome, made the monumental decision to inoculate the men guarding the President with a drug that was, for all intents and purposes, an illegal one. That he, a military man, needed no guidance or authorization from health authorities to evaluate the safety of the unapproved vaccine or handle it properly. Neither did he need the permission of his superiors for such an exceptional move that in fact posed a grave risk to the President: What if those inoculated developed serious side effects, or, alternatively, the vaccine had no effect at all but the PSG men, thinking they were now immune, eased up on the required health protocols? Durante would have the public believe he consulted no one on his decision, not the President or any official in the defense, military, or health establishments. He may very well have put the lives of his men, and that of his principal, in danger, but, as he huffed in defense, “We are soldiers so we have to take risks just to accomplish our mission.”

But whatever noble goal may be squiggling in his mind to justify his actions, Durante plainly went rogue by breaking the law and ignoring the chain of command, and, worse, possibly endangering his men and the chief executive he is sworn to protect. Would a regular soldier be able to get away with a similar course of action simply by invoking worthwhile ends to his illicit means? Wouldn’t he be subjected to the stiffest court-martial proceedings for his “independent” behavior?

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That is, of course, if Durante’s claim of responsibility is even halfway true, and not, more likely, the ritual act of a loyal underling falling on his sword to save the skin, if not of his master, then of the powerful officials and whisperers around the sovereign whose shoddy advice led to this latest royal screw-up, and who are now desperate to turn the public’s irate gaze elsewhere.

Hence perhaps the even more strenuous attempts by Palace mouthpiece Harry Roque to turn himself into a giant human pretzel, contorting himself this way and that to absolve the administration as more disturbing revelations have emerged. Reminded that there was a law against the use of unauthorized, smuggled vaccines in the country, Roque argued that no law was broken because the vaccine was only a Christmas “token” of minimal value, and it was supposedly a donation so no public funds were spent. Donation by whom? He couldn’t say. And how did it manage to enter the country and become available for use by no less than the presidential guards? “Hindi ko po alam kung paano po yan nakalusot.”

Finally, exasperated, he moved to throttle any further discussion with an imperious “Tapos na po ang usapan na yan.”Well, fat chance, when what the public has been given so far by way of explanation is dose after dose of bunkum, equivocation, and snake-oil excuses.

On top of Durante’s unbelievable claims and Roque’s acrobatic exertions, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana also rationalized the use of what he admitted was smuggled goods on the grounds that “maganda naman ang layunin nila.” And a lawmaker—Tito Sotto, the Senate president no less—shrugged it all off and said there was no law violated, despite existing FDA regulations on the matter.

Privileged vaccinations recalling the special testing for VIPs, health frontliners shunted aside, an administration unable to talk straight: It’s 2021, but it sure feels like it’s still early 2020.

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TAGS: coronavirus pandemic, coronavirus philippines, COVID-19 vaccine, Delfin Lorenzana, Editorial, Harry Roque, Jesus Durante III, PSG vaccination, Rodrigo Duterte, Sinopharm

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