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Government urged to focus probe on vaccine smuggler

SURIGAO del Norte Rep. Robert Ace Barbers on Wednesday urged government probe bodies to prioritize and focus their investigation in identifying and prosecuting the smuggler and his facilitator-cohorts from the Bureau of Customs (BoC) of the unregistered China-made anti-coronavirus disease-19 (COVID-19) vaccines now being illegally sold in the Philippine drug market.

Barbers, chairman of the House committee on dangerous drugs, said the smugglers of the vaccines, allegedly developed by a Chinese-state-owned pharmaceutical company, could also be the ones who reportedly “donated” the same drug to some 300 members of the Presidential Security Group (PSG) who claimed to have inoculated themselves.

“The Department of Justice and its investigating arm, the National Bureau of Investigation, should focus its probe in identifying and prosecuting the smuggler and his BoC cohorts of the Sinopharm vaccines into the country,” Barbers said.

“If the DoJ and the NBI won’t probe and determine the real circumstances behind the illegal importation of the vaccines, malamang ay merong mga tao na kumita ng limpak-limpak na salapi at naloko ang ating mamamayan at pamahalaan sa gitna ng pandemya na ating kinakaharap ngayon,” Barbers added.

Barbers said he admires the investigative abilities of NBI probers in determining the identity of the “smugglers’ of the vaccine and his cohorts at the BoC, stopping the vaccines’s sale and distribution in the black market, and in prosecuting them before the courts of law.

On the part of the PSG, Barbers also lauded their decision to inoculate themselves with the vaccine being frontliners in securing the safety and preventing the possibility of the President being infected with COVID-19.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said it has not approved any anti-COVID-19 vaccines for use in the local drug market and Sinopharm makers did not apply for clinical trials in the country.

Reports said the Sinopharm anti-COVID vaccines were allegedly being sold in the black market for nearly US$400 or about P20,000, particularly to the Filipino Chinese community in Binondo.

The FDA, the state’s regulatory body against untested and unregulated local and imported food and drugs, so far has failed to make any arrests against importers, sellers and distributors of the illegal vaccines.

“Ang malamang na nangyari ay ‘nag-donate’ o nagbigay umano ng libre ang smuggler ng Sinopharm vaccines para gamitin ng mga PSG members at iba pang opisyal ng pamahalaan. Ang hindi natin alam ay kung gaano karaming vaccine ang ipinasobra at ipinasok ng smuggler sa bansa na ngayon ay ibinibenta sa black market ng P20,000 bawat inoculation,” he added.

Defense Sec. Delfin Lorenzana has demanded an explanation from the PSG on the use of the smuggled vaccines that has caused a public uproar and sought sanctions against people behind the inoculation.

The PSG led by Brig. Gen. Jesus Durante has kept mum and continues to withhold information on the factual circumstances behind the decision to inoculate PSG members and who is the source of the unregulated anti-COVID-19 vaccine.

Justice Sec. Menardo Guevarra on Monday directed NBI chief Eric Distor to probe the unauthorized distribution and administration of unregistered Sinopharm vaccines for possible violation of the FDA laws, the Consumer Act, the Medical Practice Act, among others.