‘COVID-19 vaccines like ‘tokens’ with small value,’ says Roque as he asserts legality of ‘donations’ used to immunize PSG members, soldiers

Published December 29, 2020, 3:41 PM

by Genalyn Kabiling

The country’s anti-graft law has not been violated when the Presidential Security Group (PSG) accepted donated coronavirus vaccines since the items could be considered as “tokens” with small value, according to Presidential spokesman Harry Roque.

Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque (OPS / MANILA BULLETIN)

In a televised press briefing, Roque explained that the law prohibiting public officials and workers not to solicit or accept gift or anything of monetary value was “not absolute.”

“Ako po ay abogado. Hindi po ‘yan absolute. ‘Yung mga tokens pinapayagan naman lalo na kung panahon ng Pasko. Puwede pong tokens, ‘yung mga wala masyadong halaga ibig sabihin (I am a lawyer. That is not absolute. The tokens are allowed especially during Christmas. Tokens or those with small value are allowed),” Roque said during a televised press briefing.

Roque was reacting to queries if there was any breach of the anti-graft law in accepting COVID-19 vaccines donated to the President’s security team.

Asked if the vaccines are considered tokens, Roque said: “I don’t think it’s of much value anyway.” 

He found nothing wrong with accepting small tokens especially during special occasions.

“So ‘yung mga little value sa mga special occasion. I’m not arguing. So ‘yun lang nakasaad sa batas but it is not an absolute ban (So those with little value during special occasions. I’m not arguing. That’s what the law says but it is not an absolute ban),” he said.

“Kung ganyan, ‘yung aking birthday cake na natanggap sa mga tauhan, that constitutes graft and corruption. Hindi naman po. ‘Yun mga of little value (If that’s the case, the birthday cake I received from my staff would constitute graft and corruption. It’s not. As long as they have little value),” he said.

Republic Act No. 3019 or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act prohibits public officers from “directly or indirectly requesting or receiving any gift, present, share, percentage, or benefit, for himself or for any other person, in connection with any contract or transaction between the government and any other party.” 

It also declares unlawful the “directly or indirectly requesting or receiving any gift, present or other pecuniary or material benefit, for himself or for another, from any person for whom the public officer, in any manner or capacity, has secured or obtained, or will secure or obtain, any Government permit or license, in consideration for the help given or to be given.”

The same law however excludes “unsolicited gifts or presents of small or insignificant value offered or given as a mere ordinary token of gratitude or friendship according to local customs or usage.”

PSG commander Brig. Gen. Jesus Durante III earlier confirmed that PSG personnel providing close-in security to the President have been inoculated with the COVID vaccine in line with its mission to protect the country’s leader. Durante however declined to provide details about how the unregistered vaccines were obtained by the PSG.

To date, the country’s Food and Drug Administration has yet to approve any coronavirus vaccine in the country. The Palace earlier said it was not against the law for someone to receive a vaccine as long as it was not commercially imported, distributed and sold in large amounts.

In his briefing Tuesday, Roque made clear that no government funds were used to purchase the vaccines given to the PSG troopers.  

“It was not paid for so it’s a donation, but that’s all that I know,” he said.

“Huwag natin masamaın ‘yan dahil yan ang magreresulta sa mabuting kalusugan ng ating Presidente and let’s close the issue at that (Let’s not take it the wrong way because that will result to the President’s good health and let’s close the issue at that),” he said.

Since public funds were not used in the PSG vaccination, Roque said the government remains committed to prioritize the country’s health workers, the poor and vulnerable and essential workers the immunization drive.