By John Ezekiel J. Hirro

Is it wrong for mayors and other public officials to skip the priority list for Covid-19 vaccination?

According to President Rodrigo Duterte, “there’s a gray area there.”

Nine local chief executives have been named by Duterte and the Department of the Interior and Local Government as line-skippers in the country’s vaccine rollout:

Tacloban City Mayor Alfred Romualdez
T’boli Mayor Dibu Tuan
Sto. Niño, South Cotabato Mayor Sulpicio Villalobos
Legazpi City Mayor Noel Rosal of
Bataraza, Palawan Mayor Abraham Ibba
Minglanilla, Cebu Mayor Elenito Pena
Alicia, Bohol Mayor Victoriano Torres III
San Miguel, Bohol Mayor Virgilio Mendez
Lila, Bohol Mayor Arturo “Jed” Piollo II

Duterte said he could not determine if it was wrong for mayors to skip lines if they only wanted to allay their constituents’ vaccine hesitancy.

“Ito ‘yong mga ang rason nila I think that is universal excuse na para hindi matakot ‘yong mga constituents. Well, ako, medyo gray area ‘yan,” he said.

“If the purpose is really to show to the constituent—constituency that it is safe, may ano ako—hindi ko ma-ano masyado. I said there’s a gray area there.”

Duterte said he was warned by the World Health Organization (WHO) that it could revoke the vaccines it provided through its Covax facility if the Philippines fails to follow its vaccine priority list.

“Kasi sinabi na sa atin ng country representative ng WHO, if you do not follow the list of priority, you might lose the assistance of the WHO. It was made clear to us na ganoon ang pagkasabi,” the president said.

However, the vaccination of actor Mark Anthony Fernandez in Parañaque drew the ire of the president.

“Anak ito ng artista. Kayo na ang bahala mag-imbestiga nito. Then kung matapos na ito… make a report out of that incident and idiretso mo na lang sa Ombudsman. Mas mabuti, mas madali,” he said, prompting the investigation of the vaccination.

In an interview with ANC on Wednesday, Parañaque City Mayor Edwin Olivarez said Fernandez had “co-morbidities” and thus was qualified for vaccination.

“Alam naman po nating nagkaroon ng depression si Mark, ibig sabihin niyan he’s qualified as the next priority after frontliners,” he said.

Interior Undersecretary Epimaco Densing III on Thursday said the case was infuriating because the vaccines were for medical workers and not actors.

“Narinig natin si Pangulong Duterte kagabi na nagalit tungkol doon dahil ni wala siya sa A1 to 5 priority list or B1 to 6 priority list, bigla silang nakasingit,” he said.

“Nakakapikon at nakakasama ng loob para sa ating mga kababayan na dapat inuuna natin iyong ating frontline workers.”

Despite this, Densing said Fernandez was so far free from liability.

“The one implementing [the vaccine rollout] are our national officials and the local government officials, and kung nakasingit siya eh hindi po natin nakikita kung ano iyong liability ng isang nakasingit. Pero baka magkaroon ng liability iyong nagpasingit at iyong pumayag na siya ay bakunahan kahit labas po siya sa priority list.”

The following are the priority population groups for vaccination:

A1: Frontline workers in health facilities both national and local, private and public, health professionals and non-professionals like students, nursing aides, janitors, barangay health workers, etc.
A2: Senior citizens aged 60 years old and above
A3: Persons with co-morbidities not otherwise included in the preceding categories
A4: Frontline personnel in essential sectors including uniformed personnel and those in working sectors identified by the IATF as essential during ECQ
A5: Indigent population not otherwise included in the preceding categories
B1: Teachers, Social Workers
B2: Other Government Workers
B3: Other essential workers
B4: Socio-demographic groups at significantly higher risk other than senior citizens and indigenous people
B5: Overseas Filipino Workers
B6: Other Remaining Workforce
C: Rest of the Filipino population not otherwise included in the above groups