MANILA - Sen. Ronald "Bato" Dela Rosa on Wednesday said "nothing is wrong" when Armed Forces of the Philippines Chief of Staff Gen. Felimon Santos Jr. sought China's help to procure an unregistered medicine that could supposedly cure the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19)- a personal request that has since been withdrawn.
Santos, who earlier tested positive for coronavirus but has since recovered, had written the Chinese Embassy in Manila to ask for assistance in acquiring 5 boxes of Carrimycin tablets to share it to "some of his friends."
"Nothing is wrong. In times of crisis, we have to be practical so much so that there is no prescribed medicine yet that can cure COVID-19," Dela Rosa, Santos' batchmate in the Philippine Military Academy Sinagtala Class of 1986, said in a text message to reporters.
"If I were in his shoes as a COVID-19 patient, I would even reach out to a quack doctor just to stay alive," he said when sought for comment.
Santos was among high-ranking government officials who contracted the highly-contagious disease last month. He has recovered and withdrew his request to the Chinese Embassy after a photo of his letter went viral.
The Chinese-made tablets he sought has yet to be approved by the Philippines' Food and Drug Administration. In his letter, Santos said he had recovered from the disease because he took the tablets twice a day for six days - supply that came from a Chinese friend.
Sen. Leila de Lima, meanwhile, castigated Santos, saying military officials asking favors from China was "conflict of interest at best and treason at worst."
"For him to owe a debt of gratitude to any foreign entity is a conflict of interest at best and treason at worst," De Lima said in a statement.
"Kailangan natin ng Armed Forces chief na hindi nabibili ng sinuman, lalo na ng mga dayuhan," she said.
(We need an Armed Forces chief who cannot be bought, especially by foreigners.)
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana earlier appealed for understanding, saying Santos may have considered procuring the unregistered COVID-19 drug after he "suffered anguish and distress" during his bout with the disease.
"Wala naman siyang kasalanan na nag-violate ng regulation or imperiled our national security. Kaya we will let the matter rest na, kasi he already admitted and he explained to me the reason why he did it," Lorenzana said.
(He did not violate any regulation or imperiled our national security. So we will let the matter rest already because he already admitted and he explained to me the reason why he did it.)
"I-consider natin 'yung experience ni Gen. Santos. Siya ay na-infect ng deadly virus at yung specter ng pagkamatay ay nandiyan. He suffered anguish and distress," he added.
(Let's consider the experience of Gen. Santos. He was infected with the deadly virus and the possibility of death was there. He suffered anguish and distress.)
The Philippines and China has been pitted in a territorial dispute in the South China Sea after Beijing insisted that it owned several islets and parcels of land that were within Manila's exclusive economic zone.
Recently, the Philippines filed diplomatic protests over Chinese acts in the disputed waters, including pointing a radar gun at a Philippine Navy vessel in February.
China has continued to ignore a 2016 ruling of a UN-backed tribunal invalidating China's 9-dash line claim in the waters. The Duterte administration has, meanwhile, been pursuing closer ties with Beijing.