Ona, Tayag probed for meds purchase
MANILA, Philippines–The National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) is investigating alleged irregularities in the purchase of antipneumonia vaccines in 2012 that involved Health Secretary Enrique Ona and Assistant Secretary Eric Tayag, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said on Monday.
De Lima said the investigation stemmed from a complaint filed directly in the Office of the President (OP) by the National Center for Pharmaceutical Access and Management, the Formulatory Executive Council and the World Health Organization (WHO) over the “inexplicable” change in the type of vaccine purchased.
“[They] went straight to the OP and complained about it, and the OP referred it to me. [Then] I assigned this to the NBI. I have not yet submitted a report to the President,” De Lima told reporters.
De Lima said she ordered the NBI to conduct an “open” investigation into the matter after Ona recently went on leave.
“Apparently, it’s because of this particular issue,” she replied, when asked if Ona’s leave had something to do with the NBI probe.
According to De Lima, the Department of Health (DOH) bought Pneumococcal Conjugate Vaccine 10 (PCV 10) contrary to the recommendation of the National Center for Pharmaceutical Access and Management, the Formulatory Executive Council and the WHO to purchase the PCV 13.
“[PCV 13] is said to be more cost effective—cost effective in the sense that more diseases will be covered, unlike the PCV 10 which has limited coverage,” De Lima explained.
She said the vaccines were intended for children with pulmonary disease, particularly pneumonia, meningitis, sinusitis, bronchitis, among others.
According to the complaint, De Lima said the DOH bids and awards committee had already prepared for and cleared the procurement of PCV 13 and a certificate of provisional exemption was obtained for the vaccine as required by law.
“But all of a sudden, as alleged, the procurement of PCV 10 was instead ordered by Assistant Secretary Tayag. It also appears that Secretary Ona issued a certificate of exemption for [PCV 10] instead of the cost-effective PCV 13, that is why the relevant bodies complained.”
De Lima said she did not know how much money was involved in the questioned procurement, adding that when the case was referred to her in late June, her instruction to the NBI was to conduct a “discreet” investigation.
The DOH’s 2012 updated procurement plan, posted on the agency’s website, showed an allotment of P833,670,642 for the purchase of PCV in the second quarter. The mode of procurement was listed as “negotiated” with the United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef), while the end-user was indicated as the Non-Communicable Diseases Prevention and Control-Family Health Office.
The discreet investigation was slow so she ordered an open one, De Lima said, explaining: “In fact, they (NBI) are having difficulty accessing documents. They said certain personalities, offices and units of the DOJ were uncooperative. They were given the runaround. So I told them, you better do an open investigation so you can officially issue subpoenas.”
The NBI team encountered informants who were “hesitant to execute anything,” De Lima said.
She said she did not think Ona or Tayag had given statements to the NBI. But she added that Ona or Tayag probably knew about the discreet investigation since the NBI team had gone to the DOH to ask for documents and talk to several people.
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