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President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday night warned Congress against tinkering with the Presidential Security Group (PSG) personnel over their vaccination against the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19), saying it would not result in anything good.

Duterte said his close-in security detail decided to get inoculated with a Covid-19 vaccine as “a matter of self-preservation” and “right to live.”

“To me, it’s a matter of self-preservation. Iyan lang (That’s all). Whatever be your objection, whatever be your criticism, para sa akin (for me), it is a matter of preservation. And I would like to call on Congress na hindi naman ako nakikiusap. Ang ano ko lang diretso na salita na (I am not making an appeal. I want to tell you straight) do not tinker with the PSG. I’m telling you as President it’s a matter of self-preservation,” he said in his taped speech.

He said he was “not keen” on allowing PSG commander Brig. Jesus Durante III and other personnel to face Congress to explain how the vaccine doses were procured or if it was done against their will.

“If they will be called to testify in Congress, my — as a lawyer, I will just tell them because they are now being accused and with the accompanying statement of prosecution and things like that. And if that is the case, then I would ask the PSG to just shut up. Do not answer,” he said.

If they chose to testify, Duterte pointed out that the PSG personnel may also invoke their right against self-incrimination.

“And do not force my soldiers to testify against their will. At huwag ninyong i-contempt-contempt na i-detain ninyo (And don’t cite them in contempt and detain them). I do not think it will be good for you and for me. It would not be healthy for everybody,” he added.

He said he did not even want them to appear before Congress for interrogation.

“If they ask you questions, ah sabihin ko talaga sa kanila (I will really tell them) do not answer and maybe even I would not allow them to appear in Congress,” he said.

According to Duterte, if Congress decides to proceed with the inquiry, something “nasty” could transpire.

He said he would either ask the PSG personnel to “ignore” the summon or if cited in contempt and detained, he said he would personally go there to pick them up.

“Huwag mo silang pakialaman (Don’t interfere) because they’re… Two things may happen: I will ask them to shut up and not to answer any question, and I’m not threatening, please do not cite them in contempt by detaining them, I will not allow it. Pupunta ako diyan sa Congress, kukunin ko sila (I’ll go to Congress and pick them up),” he said.

He insisted that his close-in security detail had “good intentions” and he would not allow them to be “brutalized” in a congressional hearing.

“‘Pag ginawa ninyo ‘yan (If you do that), there will be a little crisis. Nasa inyo. Ako, I am prepared. I am preferred — preferred — prepared to defend my soldier. I will not allow them for all of their good intentions to be brutalized in a hearing,” he said.

However, he said he could not really tell if they actually received the vaccine. He also said that the idea to get Covid-19 shots was not his idea, but the PSG personnel’s “own volition.”

He then directed Durante not to obey the Congress’ summon.

“I think now I will tell Durante — he is here — Durante, do not obey the summons. I am ordering you to stay put in the barracks,” he said.

‘I need them’

Because it was difficult for his close-in security detail to stay near him because of physical distancing, Duterte said the only solution was for them to get vaccinated.

“Ako ‘yung Presidente (I’m the President), I hate to say this, pero kailangan ako ng security na close-in. Puro sundalo ‘yan, pati ‘yang mga babae sundalo (But I need my close-in security detail, even the women). Oh, how do you now propose that they can guard me and my life kung social distancing por metro? Kayo na mag-intindi diyan (if they practice social distancing for one meter. Try to understand that),” he said.

He said the PSG was stuck between having to ensure his health and safety without being able to approach him.

“Now, how can I survive if wala akong (if I don’t have my) close-in to guard me and the people that would mix in the crowd to guard — to prevent untoward inci — you know, incidents? Iyan ang — iyan ang problema diyan (That’s the problem there). They are caught in a bind,” he said.

Duterte said he could not stop the PSG personnel from guarding him because there were instances where he would have to visit danger zones.

“Hindi naman ako magpipigil (I won’t stop them) because there are things kagaya ng magpunta ako ng Jolo, magpunta ako ng kampo, may puntahan ako na ganito (like going to Jolo, going to a camp, going to places like this), anything that affects the country, the republic,” he said.

Separation of powers

Duterte also lamented that Congress seemingly wanted to find fault in the PSG’s actions instead of thinking about the best possible action that would allow them to carry on their mandate.

“There are a lot of speculations and threats about prosecution and investigation, kung sana tinanong lang ninyo ng anong mabuti (if you only asked what’s good) without necessarily blurting out the threat about ‘I’ll have them investigated…’” he said.

He said he could not understand why Congress would threaten his close-in security detail with an investigation for protecting themselves from the Covid-19 threat.

“Why do you — why do you threaten a person with investigation just because he had something to protect himself for after all until now it is March to March, March pa is the earliest. In the meantime, they have so many things for themselves. They have to mix and for their job, they have to surround me. And how can they perform that duty when they are in danger of getting the Covid? Pati ako mahawa nila (And they could contaminate me). See?” he said.

Following questions over possible violation of the Republic Act 9711 or the Food and Drug Administration Act of 2009, Duterte said that there were always “exceptions” to the law.

“Well, I’m sorry to say to you, there is always an exception. You can say all the rules in this world and there will always be an exception,” he said.

Duterte said he respected the separation of powers of two co-equal branches but reminded the Congress that their only purpose to conduct investigations was “for aid in legislation.”

“I hope you won’t force my hand into it. We are friends, magkakilala tayo (we know each other), I respect the separation of powers and that you have the right to conduct congressional investigations in aid of legislation. Tell me now what aid that you can legislate when there is no g**d*** vaccine until now? Sabihin mo na nga (Tell me). About the only reason that you can really investigate is in aid of legislation. So what is there in a legislation that you can make that has something to do with vaccine? You cannot legislate vaccine,” he said.

AFP scraps probe

Following Duterte’s pronouncement, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) called off its fact-finding investigation into the matter.

“The AFP chief, Gen. Gilbert Gapay, has called off the scheduled fact-finding investigation today (Tuesday) on the vaccination of some PSG personnel,” AFP spokesperson Marine Maj. Gen. Edgard Arevalo said in a message to reporters.

The investigation was supposed to focus on the circumstances or the facts surrounding how the vaccine was procured and how it was administered between and among members of the close-in security of the President.

“This comes in the light of the recent pronouncement of the Commander-in-Chief and President Rodrigo Duterte,” Arevalo said.(with reports from Priam Nepomuceno/PNA)

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