Ex-President Aquino, 2 others face charges for Dengvaxia fiasco
The National Bureau of Investigation has filed graft charges against former President Benigno Aquino III and two members of his Cabinet over the P3-billion Dengvaxia fiasco.
Charged with Aquino in the complaint filed in the Office of the Ombudsman on Friday were former Health Secretary Janette Garin and former Budget Secretary Florencio Abad.
There was no immediate comment from the three former officials on Monday.
Officials of the French pharmaceutical giant Sanofi Pasteur, Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Department of Health were also charged.
Compounding the troubles of Garin, the Public Attorney’s Office (PAO) has brought another criminal complaint against the former health secretary on behalf of the mother of an 11-year-old elementary student who died after being inoculated with Dengvaxia.
More cases coming
“We’re not yet done. We’re still preparing three more criminal cases. We have also filed nine other civil cases,” PAO chief Persida Rueda-Acosta told reporters on Monday.
“This is a conglomerate of what they did, which resulted in the mass vaccination of schoolchildren without screening and without blood tests. There was no informed consent [from the victims],” Acosta said.
The Aquino administration bought P3 billion worth of the dengue vaccine Dengvaxia in 2016 for a massive immunization campaign.
The health department halted the program on Dec. 1 last year, three days after Sanofi Pasteur announced new finding that Dengvaxia worsened symptoms in vaccinated people who had no previous exposure to the dengue virus.
By then, more than 830,000 schoolchildren had been inoculated with Dengvaxia.
Dozens of children fell ill, nearly 70 reportedly died, but no evidence had been found that directly linked the deaths to Dengvaxia.
The Senate investigated the Dengvaxia program and found that the Aquino administration rushed the acquisition of the vaccine.
The PAO investigated the deaths and brought charges against Garin, former and incumbent health officials, and executives of Sanofi Pasteur and its local distributor, Zuellig Pharma Corp.
In its complaint, the NBI alleged irregularities and conspiracy in the issuance of the certificate of product registration (CPR), and irregularities in the issuance of exemption to the Philippine National Drug Formulary (PNDF) and Formulary Executive Council.
The NBI also alleged irregularities in the procurement of Dengvaxia and accused Aquino, Garin and Abad of technical malversation through misuse of government funds.
“There was technical malversation because government funds amounting to P3 billion intended for the 2015 miscellaneous personnel benefit fund of the executive department” was used for the immunization program, the NBI said.
“Although the source of funds was declared as savings by the Chief Executive, its intended purpose to augment failed as there [was] no existing program, activity or project for dengue procurement and immunization,” it said.
“It can be deduced that through confederation and cooperation, the personalities involved, the procurement and eventual implementation of Dengvaxia was realized,” the NBI said.
The NBI also alleged conspiracy, especially in the issuance of CPR and exemption to PNDF.
The PAO cases, on the other hand, were separate from a similar complaint filed by the Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption regarding the deaths being blamed on the mass immunization program, which was continued by the Duterte administration until halted at the start of December last year.
Acosta, whose office represents the families of nearly 70 children who allegedly died due to adverse effects of Dengvaxia, reiterated that Garin should be held criminally liable for allowing the vaccine to be administered to schoolchildren despite knowing that it was still undergoing clinical tests.
She pointed out that as then health secretary, Garin concurrently headed the FDA, which green-lighted the use of Dengvaxia.