House panels recommend charges vs Aquino, Abad, Garin over Dengvaxia mess
MANILA, Philippines (Updated) — A joint panel of the House of Representatives on Wednesday recommended the filing of criminal and administrative charges against former President Benigno Aquino III as well as former Budget Sec. Florencio Abad and Health Sec. Janette Garin in connection with the P3.5 billion Dengvaxia mess.
According to the approved committee report of the House committees on good government and public accountability and health, Aquino, Abad, Garin, and others have violated Section 3(e) of RA No. 3019 or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act for allegedly “conspiring and confederating with one another for the purpose of giving any private party any unwarranted benefits, advantage or preference in the discharge of his official administrative or judicial functions through manifest partiality, evident bad faith or gross inexcusable negligence.”
The committee voted 14 to 4 to approve the committee report with a few amendments. Reps. Kaka Bag-ao, Gabriel Bordado Jr., Ruffy Biazon, and Oscar Garin were the lawmakers who opposed.
The joint panel also ruled that “there was collusion among public officials to ensure that a large quantity of Dengvaxia vaccines would be purchased by the government for administration to school children in the National Capital Region (NCR) and in Regions III (Central Luzon) and IV (Southern Tagalog).”
“This was done even though the safety and efficacy of Dengvaxia had not been clearly established. These officials provided shortcuts in the process to favor Sanofi Pasteur, the manufacturer of a commercially available dengue vaccine,” the report added.
The following officials may also be held liable for graft, according to the committees: Dr. Maria Joyce Ducusin, Dr. Julius Lecciones, Dr. Kenneth Hartigan-Go, as well as members of the Philippine Children’s Medical Center (PCMC) Bids and Awards Committee.
An earlier version of this story included Dr. Rosalind Vianzon, Dr. Mario Baquilod, Dr. Estrella Paje-Villar and Dr. Lyndon Lee Suy as among those that may be held liable for graft, but the committees issued a corrected report hours after, and removed their names.
The report further said Aquino, Abad, Garin, and Lecciones may be held liable for technical malversation or for Illegal Use of Public Funds or Property, under Article 220 of the Revised Penal Code, as well as grave misconduct.
For the joint committee, the contract between PCMC and Zuellig Pharma Corporation is void, thus, it urged the PCMC to file a civil action against Zuellig, Aquino, Abad, Garin, and Lecciones for the recovery of the amount paid by PCMC to Zuellig for the procurement of the Dengvaxia vaccine, less whatever amount or amounts which may have already been refunded.
The panels also put to task the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) to investigate the personalities involved in the procurement of the dengue vaccines, and their deposit and investment accounts, including related accounts.
At an interview with good government and public accountability chair and Camiguin Rep. Xavier Romualdo said the committees would still thresh out the amendments made by the members of the panels.
Among these, he said, were the inclusion of a timeline of events and the roll-out of the program; Rep. Estrellita Suansing’s motion to highlight the liability of the pharmaceutical giant Sanofi Pasteur; Rep. Carlos Zarate’s motion to include former Health Sec. Paulyn Ubial among those to be held liable; and Bag-ao suggestion to include elements of the offenses or criminal liabilities committed by the officials.
“We will include (the amendments) before namin i-file sa plenary,” Romualdo told reporters, adding that they would extend sessions until Friday.
“Aayusin muna namin ‘yung amendments. Magse-session daw kasi hanggang Friday so kung kaya hanggang Friday or pagbalik na lang after the break,” he added. Congress was supposed to go on an election break after their supposed last session later.
During the deliberations, Bordado questioned why the panel report, dated Feb. 4, departs from the Aug. 21, 2018 report which “exonerated Aquino and Abad,” when discussions on facts are basically the same.
But Romualdo argued that the Aug 2018 draft report was not brought to the consideration of the committees as it was crafted by the former leader of the committees.
The Camiguin congressman also said Aquino and Abad were not exonerated by the earlier draft report.
“Hindi naman in-exonerate, hindi lang inidentify. May finding ng liability but officials were not identified so hindi accurate to say na inexonerate sila,” he claimed. /muf
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