GENERAL SANTOS CITY – The two mayors in South Cotabato province who were inoculated against the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) ahead of the priority health care workers appeared to have violated the government’s vaccination protocol.
Lawyer Rochelle Sero, director of the DILG-South Cotabato, said Thursday mayors Sulpicio Villalobos of Sto. Nino and Dibu Tuan of Tboli are not yet eligible to get the vaccines based on the provisions of DILG Memorandum Circular 2021-007 issued last January.
She said the circular, which sets the “Interim Preparatory Guidelines in the Implementation of the National Vaccination Program,” specifically cited that frontline health workers are first in line in the rollout of the vaccines.
“Kung makita nimo, naay priority and they cut the line. So maingon ta naa sila violation sa vaccine protocol (As you can see, there is a priority (list) and they cut the line. So we can say that they violated the vaccine protocol),” she said in a press briefing in Koronadal City.
But Sero said it would be up to their central office or the Office of the Ombudsman, if eventually elevated, to determine the extent of the accountability of the two mayors.
She said they could face suspension, as initially declared by their central office, or face other sanctions.
The two were among the five mayors in the country who were initially flagged by the DILG central office and issued with show-cause orders on Wednesday for “jumping the line” on the vaccination priority list.
The list has increased to nine as of Wednesday night, with President Rodrigo Duterte noting that the erring officials might be liable for malversation or estafa and should be charged before the Ombudsman.
Villalobos and Tuan separately received their first doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine last March 19.
When reports of the vaccination came out, Sero said she asked their municipal offices to submit incident reports on the matter and endorsed them to their regional office, which then elevated it to their central office.
As of Thursday, she said they have yet to receive formal notices from their regional and central offices regarding the show-cause orders, which mainly direct the concerned mayors to explain their actions.
In a radio interview, Villalobos said he received the vaccine based on a “suggestion” from the town’s health officer, Dr. Evelyn Diosana.
He said Diosana offered that he can be vaccinated as he had been isolated several times since last year and subjected to swab tests due to his constant exposure to many people.
The mayor said he accepted the offer as he also wanted to set an example to his constituents who were still having doubts about the safety and efficacy of the Covid-19 vaccines.
“It was a strategy to encourage our people aged 18-years-old and above to get vaccinated based on the calls of the national government,” he said.
Villalobos said he is ready to explain his side and justify his action once he receives the show-cause order.
Tuan could not be immediately reached for comment and has not yet issued any statement to the public on the matter.
But Sero said the incident report submitted by their municipal field office said Tuan decided to get inoculated to also boost the people’s trust and confidence in the vaccine.
“There are some people in Tboli who have doubts about the vaccine and he (Tuan) (can) serve as a model for the vaccination,” she said.
Dr. Rogelio Aturdido Jr., chief of the Integrated Provincial Health Office, said in the same briefing it is important for everyone to follow the vaccination protocol and the priority list since the vaccine supplies are still limited.
“Their intention is good but the timing is not right. It’s not yet their turn to get the vaccine,” he said, referring to the two mayors.
The official said Diosana, the municipal health officer of Sto. Nino, justified in their earlier phone conversation that Villalobos can get the vaccine as he is a “front-liner and a working mayor.”
But he countered that only individuals who directly handle or attend Covid-19 patients and are working to prevent their spread are considered as front-liners.
Aturdido said it is now up to the mayor to justify and prove that he really deserves to be accommodated ahead on the priority list. (PNA)