Garin, 4 others charged with graft over P3.5-B Dengvaxia purchase
MANILA, Philippines — The Office of the Ombudsman has indicted former Health Secretary and now Iloilo Rep. Janette Garin and four other former health officials for graft and technical malversation in connection with the allegedly anomalous purchase of P3.5 billion worth of Dengvaxia vaccines in 2015.
Ombudsman Samuel Martires on Wednesday confirmed to the Inquirer that his investigators had filed charges against Garin and four other officials on Tuesday at the Sandiganbayan.
In the three-page charge sheet by the Ombudsman dated Aug. 23, named as Garin’s co-accused in the graft case are former Health Undersecretary Gerardo Bayugo, former Department of Health (DOH) officer in charge Director Maria Joyce Ducusin, former Health Undersecretary Kenneth Hartigan-Go and former Philippine Children’s Medical Center executive director Julius Lecciones.
Except for Bayugo, they were also charged with violation of Article 220 of the Revised Penal Code, or the illegal use of public funds or property, based on the separate three-page charge sheet on the technical malversation case.
The charges were in connection with the procurement of vaccines for the dengue immunization program under then President Benigno Aquino III. It came under scrutiny especially during the succeeding administration, under Rodrigo Duterte, following the death of several children who were inoculated with Dengvaxia.
Garin and Aquino had maintained that the deaths were not caused by the vaccines, contrary to the position of the Public Attorney’s Office (PAO) under Persida Acosta who cited the findings of her forensics team.
In a statement on Wednesday, Garin said “We see this case as an opportunity to finally put an end to the longstanding issue that apparently continue to haunt us.”
“As we maintain our clear conscience and readiness to face the issues that confront us, we are confident that our sound exercise of discretion, which is backed by hard science, will disprove the allegations in the complaint filed by lawyer Glenn Chiong,” said the lawmaker, currently the House deputy majority leader.
In defense of the dengue vaccination drive under Aquino, Garin said “there are a lot of risks in advocating vaccine development that we, as doctors and vaccinologists, experience. We firmly believe in the principles of justice and due process which our legal system upholds. With this, we fully trust that our innocence will be duly proven and the truth will come out in due time.” The Ombudsman recommended bail amounting to P90,000 per respondent in the graft case, and P18,000 each in the technical malversation case.
In the malversation case, the Ombudsman said the P3.55-billion funding for the vaccine purchase was intended for the Expanded Program on Immunization (EPI) of the DOH.
The dengue vaccines, however, were “not part” of the EPI and also not listed under Volume 1 of the Philippine National Drug Formulary (PNDF), according to graft prosecutors.
This constituted a violation of Executive Order No. 49 of 1993, which directs the use of the PNDF’s Volume 1 as the basis for the procurement of drug products by the government.
The purchase of the dengue vaccines was also “in violation of … related administrative orders and issuances, to the damage of public service,” according to the charge sheet signed by graft prosecutor Rodil Casal II.
In the graft case, Garin and the other former health officials are accused of “willfully, unlawfully, and feloniously” realigning the P3.55-billion funding for the procurement of the vaccines and the eventual implementation of the school-based immunization program.
This was an “open defiance” also of EO 49, as well as other related issuances “to the damage and prejudice of the government in the afore-stated amount.”
Listed as prosecution witnesses were lawyers Chong of the Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption and Eligio Mallari of Vanguard of the Philippines Constitution Inc.; and Dr. Anthony Leachon, all of whom initiated the complaint against Garin and the others.
In August, Leachon was tapped by the Marcos administration to serve as special health adviser on communicable diseases. But his credentials were questioned by Garin during a House hearing in September on the department’s budget. Leachon resigned from the position hours after the hearing.
Chong, Mallari, and Leachon were also listed as witnesses in the malversation case, along with Dr. Clarito Cairo Jr.