SURIGAO DEL NORTE (MindaNews / 12 January) – The reported vaccination in the Presidential Security Group (PSG), of Philippine Offshore Gaming Operator (POGO) workers and high officials, without prior known authority for the vaccine used, shocks the public. It is even more so when we were told to accept that, without need of belaboring on the legality or prior authorization for the vaccines used. It was purportedly praiseworthy, regardless of any authority from Foods and Drugs Administration (FDA), according to a lawmaker. It was an act justified for self-preservation, according to the President, that need not be inquired into, whether or not the vaccines or their entry or use was authorized.
What happens now to the vaccination plan of the government in the midst of pandemic and the serious danger of COVID-19 to the health and life of the people? What has become of the rule of law out of that vaccination incident involving the PSG?
Republic Act 9711 provides for the required registration of any COVID-19 vaccine and authority for its use or administration. It is intended, just like its predecessor RA 3270, to protect and promote the right to health of the Filipino people. The regulatory authority of the FDA is well established in the law in order to exact compliance of registration and authorization of health products like a vaccine. Sections 10 and 11 of RA 9711 in relation to Sections 11 and 12 of RA 3270, provide, in stating and as consequences to non-observance of the required registration and authorization, for prohibited acts such as, among others, “(a) The manufacture, importation, exportation, sale, offering for sale, distribution, transfer, non-consumer use, promotion, advertising, or sponsorship of any health product that is adulterated, unregistered or misbranded”, with corresponding penalties of imprisonment and fine, in case of commission of any of such acts.
The law mandates, before it is introduced in the country and distributed for administration or use, that any COVID-19 vaccine shall have been registered and authorized. It presupposes, for that requirement, that any such vaccine has undergone stringent testing procedures for determination of its safe quality and efficacy. What the law so mandates bind the citizens to follow, even the high officials of the land. The duty of every citizen not to infringe it is what makes the law, not power or position, rules. While the law may be strict, that is the law. It is presumed, through the intent in enacting any such law as RA 9711, that the public may benefit from the protection it gives to their rights, e.g., right to health, and makes its exacting requirements negligible.
Thus, no amount of rationalization from the lawmaker or the President, such as the duty of the PSG to protect the President or an act of self-preservation on the part of the members of the PSG, can justify the violation of RA 9711, in bypassing the authority from the FDA for the vaccines administered to the members of the PSG. The President and the lawmaker have both the duty, like others with powers to enact or implement the law, to follow the mandate of the law. Neither the President nor the lawmaker is above the law. The last time we know, our country is governed by law, unless there is a different rule under the present government. Moreover, vaccine requires scientific procedure to determine its safe quality and efficacy and affects the health and life of the people, the law is even more exacting on the matter and the duty to observe its mandate. For what good would the vaccination of the members of PSG bring, should it be found later that the vaccine administered to them had side effects that could even endanger their lives or render them unfit to act for the security of the President?
Public officials, especially the President and lawmakers, cannot be allowed to disregard or undermine the mandate of the law. Just as public officials demand compliance by ordinary citizens of the health protocols to prevent the spread of COVID-19 virus, the President and lawmakers have the duty to ensure compliance of prior authorization and registration of any vaccine before it is brought in, used and administered in our country in order to have for the people quality, safe and efficacious vaccine. Public officials have the duty to be transparent in that regard and to further ensure that, consistent with the guidelines, vaccines shall be dispensed according to the order of priority, first to the frontline health workers, then to senior citizens and vulnerables, and not to favored few. Concomitant to such official duty, the people have the right to demand the rejection of Sinopharm or Sinovac, or any other vaccines for that matter, without any prior authorization from FDA or which appears to be unsafe, costly and ineffective.
If justice is to be served to the Filipino people, public officials must be made to uphold the rule of law, whether on vaccine or other matters affecting public interest and well-being. For the rule of law is a tool of democratic governance that serves to check any abuse of authority and against the personal interests of government officials; and any public officials undermining the rule of law and justice must rightfully be exposed and rejected.
[MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Upper Right Hand is a revolving column of the Union of People’s Lawyers in Mindanao (UPLM). Atty. Jose V. Begil Jr. is a private practitioner in Surigao del Norte. He is the immediate past Chair of UPLM and also the immediate past Vice President for Mindanao of the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL).]