Sen. Risa Hontiveros on Monday urged the Chinese authorities to shed light on the black market of illegal COVID-19 vaccines in the country.
Hontiveros was reacting to The Washington Post report that details the recent controversy involving smuggled COVID-19 vaccines administered to the Presidential Security Group and some Chinese nationals working for for Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators or POGOs.
“Sa lakas ba naman ng seguridad at surveillance sa China, imposibleng hindi nila malalaman kung sino ang may pakana ng black market vaccines na ito,” the senator said.
“Nagpanawagan narin ako sa foreign minister ng China na makipagtulungan sa ating gubyerno para maliwanagan tayo sa mga ilegal na kalakal na ito,” she added.
Hontiveros emphasized that this is the shared responsibility of both the Chinese and Philippine governments to keep their constituents safe and healthy.
“Responsibilidad nila, natin, at ng kahit anong bansa ang maging bukas sa impormasyon tungkol sa kalusugan ng ating mamamayan. Sa huli, makakatulong ito sa pagbangon ng mundo laban sa pandemya,” she said.
In the Washington Post report by correspondent Regine Cabato, it was revealed that there is a black market for COVID-19 vaccines among Chinese workers who are mostly involved in POGO firms.
So far, the Food and Drug Administration only approved the vaccine developed by Pfizer-BioNTech for “emergency use.”
Other brands that have pending FDA applications are Chinese-owned Sinovac, the AstraZeneca from the United Kingdom and the Gamaleya from Russia.
Aside from Chinese workers, the article also cited the vaccination of President Rodrigo Duterte’s PSG which the chief executive himself admitted in a briefing last December.
The COVID-19 vaccine administered to them was also developed by a Chinese pharmaceutical firm called Sinopharm.
A Philippines-based businessman who spoke on the condition of anonymity told the Washington Post that it was a “decentralized operation” wherein potential distributors will both assume legal responsibility and sign a waiver to not sale the vaccine.
“The process, he said, entailed the buyer declaring the smuggled vaccines as supplements, before customs officials would relabel the shipment accordingly and approve the importation,” Cabato wrote.
“Would-be local distributors would have to agree to assume legal responsibility and sign a waiver committing not to resell the vaccine. The businessman said that many groups were interested and that it was a ‘decentralized operation.’ A copy of a waiver form seen by The Post did not contain identifying information about the company or companies involved,” the article added.
The Department of National Defense and the FDA themselves eventually acknowledged that the vaccine inoculated to the PSG members were smuggled and unregistered.
The Senate expressed intent to investigate the unauthorized vaccination of PSG.
However, Duterte told PSG chief Brig. Gen. Jesus Durante III in a televised national address to stay mum about the matter.
Meanwhile, it was civic leader Teresita Ang-See who bared that some 100,000 Chinese POGO workers had already received unapproved vaccines.
Ang-See also detailed that such operations had been ongoing since late November 2020.