The Senate has yet to decide whether to summon former President Benigno Aquino III to an inquiry into the dengue vaccine fiasco, but Sen. JV Ejercito already wants him to explain his role in the government’s acquisition of the vaccine from the French pharmaceutical giant Sanofi Pasteur.
Ejercito particularly wants Aquino to speak about his two reported meetings with officials of Sanofi before the government agreed to buy supplies of Dengvaxia vaccine worth P3.5 billion in 2015.
“It is not that we are accusing him of anything but it’s a hot issue now. We can’t help but think why prior to the procurement, there were two meetings [between the former President and Sanofi officials]. Maybe it’s coincidence but it would be good if he would explain what happened, why there were these meetings,” the senator told reporters on Thursday.
The Department of Health (DOH) launched the dengue immunization program toward the end of the Aquino administration in 2016.
But last week, Sanofi announced that Dengvaxia could worsen dengue symptoms for vaccinated people who had not been infected before.
Health Secretary Francisco Duque III on Thursday said more than 830,000 schoolchildren had received at least one dose of the vaccine, 97,000 more than last week’s DOH count of 733,000.
Speaking at a news forum in the Senate, Ejercito said it was premature to call Aquino to the joint inquiry into the controversy by the blue ribbon and health committees, which opens next Monday.
“We will look how it goes, where it would lead us. If need, we hope [the former President] will shed light,” he said, stressing that the controversy involved public health and public funds.
Told that the spokespersons for Aquino had said that Malacañang had never kept Aquino’s meetings with Sanofi officials a secret, Ejercito said the meetings happened “prior to the decision to procure” the vaccines.
“This is the big thing here if there were shortcuts and it was done in haste,” he said.
He noted that Sen. Richard Gordon had said that it looked like a “midnight deal.”
Ejercito said it was important for the committees to find out the timeline, including how long it took for the Food and Drug Administration to license Sanofi to sell Dengvaxia in the Philippines.
He said the committees needed to know if it was true that the meetings between Aquino and the Sanofi officials resulted immediately in the signing of a contract for the purchase of Dengvaxia supplies.