Aquino admits mistake over Ona being present in Sanofi meeting
Published: 8:08 p.m., Jan. 22, 2018 | Updated: 9:53 p.m., Jan. 22, 2018
Former President Benigno Aquino III has admitted a “mistake” when he earlier claimed that then Health Secretary Enrique Ona was present during his meeting with Sanofi Pasteur officials in Beijing in November 2014.
Sanofi Pasteur is the manufacturer of the controversial anti-dengue vaccine Dengavaxia, which was stopped by the government following the firm’s own admission that it could lead to more severe symptoms to people who had not prior infection.
Aquino explained that when he faced a Senate probe on Dengvaxia last month, he was given a briefer that Ona was present in that meeting.
“I have to rely on the records that we possessed and unfortunately, sometimes there’s a mistake. Di ba, it’s human to err,” he told Inquirer.net on Monday.
“He (Ona) was present, he was not present around that time, there were already issues about his fitness to remain as Secretary of Health,” the former leader pointed out.
When the briefer was presented to him, Aquino said he had no reasons to doubt the accuracy of the information provided to him.
“Parang pwede ko bang sabihin sayo lahat ng ginawa ko on that day in a period of six years? Remembering sinong kausap, saan kayo nag-usap, anong oras kayo nag usap, anong pinag-usapan nyo…?”
[It’s like, would I be able to tell you all about everything I did on that day in a period of six years? Remembering who you talked to, where you talked, what time you talked, what you talked about?]
“I will have to rely on what records tell me and these records were looked at by people who were helping me and somebody made a mistake,” he added.
“But that’s not the important issue. The important issue is: What is the advice that was given? I reiterate my position that this matter [Dengvaxia] was brought up… by Ona in a letter or memo dated August 23, 2010. And up to that time that he resigned, he was the one giving me updates on this new weapon against dengue,” Aquino further said.
Ona was at the helm of the Department of Health from June 2010 until he resigned in December 2014.
At the continuation of the Senate probe on the botched P3.5-billion anti-dengue vaccination program, Ona denied Aquino’s claim that he was present in the Beijing meeting with Sanofi officials to discuss the vaccine.
“That’s a complete surprise to me po because I was in Beijing in August,” Ona said. “I looked over my passport, kasi ho there was this insinuation that I was with the President in Beijing. Wala po ‘yun [It’s not there].”
But Aquino quickly brushed off any insinuations about Ona’s resignation, saying it was only on Dec. 15, 2014 when he received the letter of resignation, which was dated Nov. 27, 2014.
Aquino first talked about Ona’s memo about dengue when he faced the Senate probe last Dec. 14.
“Nagsimula po ang pagtutok ko sa dengue sa Pilipinas matapos kong matanggap ang memo ni Secretary Ike Ona na dated August 23, 2010,” Aquino said in his opening statement then. “Sa briefing sa akin, lahat ng serotypes or o uri ng dengue narito na raw po sa Pilipinas. Hindi din daw seasonal ang dengue at walang gamot para rito. Malaon po, sasabihin sa akin ni Secretary Ona na may nagde-develop ng vaccine para sa lahat ng strain.”
He said the memo also cited the prevalence of dengue in the country with at least five regions having the highest number of cases. One region, he said, had even recorded a 1,409 percent or 14 times increase of dengue cases.
“Ang nakakatakot dito, kung may 200,000 cases ng dengue kada taon at posibleng umangat ng 14 beses ang bilang, ang potensyal na pwedeng magkasakit ay 2.8 milyon,” Aquino said.
The former leader pointed out that no one had also objected against the use of the vaccine until Sanofi’s recent warning about its risks.
Because of the government’s dengue prevention and control program, Aquino said the number of reported deaths due to dengue dropped to only 317 in October 2015 from 1,057 in 2010.
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