Dengvaxia: Solons push criminal raps vs Aquino, Abad, Garin
A joint panel of the House of Representatives on Wednesday recommended criminal and administrative charges against former President Benigno Aquino III and his health and budget secretaries for the controversial mass inoculation of schoolchildren with the Dengvaxia vaccine in 2016 that led to a massive health scare.
The committees on good government and health voted 14-4 in favor of a report recommending graft, technical malversation and grave misconduct charges against Aquino, former Health Secretary Janette Garin, former Budget Secretary Florencio Abad and others held responsible for the P3.5-billion vaccination program.
The joint panel found that Aquino and the others violated Section 3 (e) of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act, which penalizes an official for giving a private party “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 “private party” referred to was the French pharmaceutical giant and Dengvaxia maker Sanofi Pasteur.
Aquino and Garin have previously denied any wrongdoing, but gave no fresh comments on Wednesday.
In a statement on Wednesday, Abad, who also denied any liability, noted that the report was not yet final and “can even be voted down” by the plenary.
He said the recommendations were “vague and general in many parts” and were not supported by the facts and discussions.
The panel said there was “collusion among public officials” to ensure that a large quantity of Dengvaxia would be purchased by the government to vaccinate schoolchildren in Metro Manila, Central Luzon and Southern Tagalog regions.
“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 said.
DOH Director Maria Joyce Ducusin, Philippine Children’s Medical Center (PCMC) Executive Director Julius Lecciones, former DOH Undersecretary Kenneth Hartigan-Go and members of the PCMC bids and awards committee may also be held liable for graft.
Lecciones also was recommended to be charged with technical malversation and grave misconduct.
The report urged the Anti-Money Laundering Council to “take appropriate action to investigate the personalities involved in the procurement of the dengue vaccines.”
Dinagat Rep. Kaka Bag-ao, who voted against the report of the joint panel chaired by Camiguin Rep. Xavier Romualdo, questioned its conclusions.
Bag-ao noted that the facts stated in the report were the same as those cited in an earlier draft prepared by the former panel chair, Surigao del Sur Rep. Johnny Pimentel, which had exonerated Aquino and his officials.
She asked why the panel under Romualdo had jumped to a completely different conclusion from the same set of facts.
Romualdo said the earlier document only remained a draft, since it was never put to committee deliberation.
Bag-ao argued against the approval of the report but was outvoted. The others who voted against the report were Representatives Gabriel Bordado Jr. of Camarines Sur, Kit Belmonte of Quezon City and Oscar Garin Jr. of Iloilo.
In November 2017, Sanofi issued a global warning saying that people with no prior exposure to the dengue virus might suffer severe symptoms of the disease if they had been innoculated with Dengvaxia.
According to the Department of Health (DOH), more than 830,000 people, mostly children, had been vaccinated with Dengvaxia by the time it was stopped following Sanofi’s announcement.
This led to public outcry and congressional investigations over allegations that Filipino children had been used as “guinea pigs” by Sanofi in collusion with the Aquino administration.
Sanofi refunded the government P1.16 billion for the unused Dengvaxia. Lawmakers later earmarked the money for medical assistance for those who had already been vaccinated.
Malacañang on Wednesday said it would “defer” to the House decision to recommend the charges against Aquino and the others.
Presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo in a statement said the legal process should “take its course and those found responsible be held administratively, criminally and civilly liable.”
“The Department of Justice will perform its task of evaluating the evidence presented before it and rule on the existence of a probable cause against the respondents,” he said.
“We reiterate the policy of the administration that whoever transgresses the law will have to account for it regardless of the social status and the political affiliation of the transgressor,” he added.
Earlier NBI complaint
The National Bureau of Investigation already filed similar charges against Aquino, Garin, Abad and officials of Sanofi, Food and Drug Administration and the DOH in the Office of the Ombudsman.
The NBI complaint in July 2018 alleged irregularities and conspiracy in the issuance of the certificate of product registration for Dengvaxia and irregularities in the issuance of exemption to the Philippine National Drug Formulary and Formulary Executive Council.
The NBI also accused Aquino, Garin and Abad of misusing government funds. —With reports from Christine O. Avendaño and Inquirer Research
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