Aquino: Ona probed as his case posed ‘immediate danger’ to governance
BEIJING—It is the “immediate danger” that a Cabinet official would bring in his decision that would prompt President Aquino to order an investigation on him.
President Aquino explained Tuesday night that this has been his yardstick in ordering an investigation on embattled Health Secretary Enrique Ona for the purchase of anti-pneumonia vaccines, while not ordering probes of Philippine National Police Director Gen. Alan Purisima, Tourism Secretary Ramon Jimenez and Public Works and Highways Secretary Rogelio Singson who have also been named respondents in different graft complaints.
But President Aquino also was quick to dismiss the case against Jimenez and Singson as “just politics.”
Ona is currently on a one-month leave for the questionable purchase in 2012 of over P800 million worth of anti-pneumonia vaccines for children that were not recommended by global health authorities. He is now being investigated by the National Bureau of Investigation after the President ordered the health secretary to submit a report on the “inexplicable” change in the type of vaccine that health authorities had brought to Mr. Aquino’s attention.
Purisima has been grilled in a Senate investigation last September over his acceptance of donations for the building of the police chief’s residence in Camp Crame in Quezon City as well as the purchase of his pricey vehicle. He was also questioned over his ownership of a sprawling residence in Nueva Ecija.
On the other hand, both Jimenez and Singson along with presidential ally, Senate President Franklin Drilon, will soon face a Senate investigation on the alleged overpriced Iloilo Convention Center.
Speaking to reporters before he flew Tuesday night for Myanmar, President Aquino confirmed that he had ordered Ona to go on leave so he could answer the allegations against him.
He said though that “part” of the reason why Ona also agreed to go on leave was because of his allergy reaction to a hair dye treatment.
Asked whether he still trusted Ona, the President declined to answer the question, saying he was still waiting for Ona to respond to the questions he raised about the purchase of the anti-pneumonia vaccine.
“I would not have ordered an investigation on him if I had already have a judgment on him,” he said.
The President revealed though that prior to the NBI investigation on Ona, another “entity” first investigated the health secretary several months ago.
He said the first investigation happened when he himself saw “errors” in the Bids and Awards Committee that handled the purchase of the vaccines.
Asked how he felt about the allegations against his Cabinet secretaries, the Chief Executive said that questions against them would have to be answered “and the truth shall set us all free.”
“The processes should ensure that we would have no lynch mob, no death by innuendo,” he said, adding that Ona would be given time to respond to the charges against him.
When asked about the case of Jimenez and Singson, President Aquino was quick to say though that they had a different case if compared to Ona.
But how then did the President gauge on how to order an investigation on a Cabinet member.
President Aquino said he observes one standard and that was the impact or effect of the allegation against a Cabinet official.
“How serious is the allegation? What is the preliminary data to support the allegation? And the last point, are the decisions detrimental to the general public or not?” he said.
Looking at the case of Ona, President Aquino said that the issue at hand was the vaccination and the young children put at risk here.
And that was why he said the Ona case “somehow raised the priority,” apparently in his standard that he be investigated for his decision.
On the case of the ICC, he said the issue involved “blueprints, calculations, and inventory of materials.”
“The danger is not immediate compared to the vaccines,” he said.
The President also said that the allegations in the ICC “so far … seem to be all just politics.”
But on the case of Purisima, he said: “What is the output of this person versus the allegations?”
But Aquino also made it clear that Purisima has been placed under investigation by the Department of Interior and Local Government and being subjected to a lifestyle check.
“If you say money-making, of course the Chief PNP, if he was interested in making money can make tons and tons of money. And the allegation, di ba parang ang layo doon sa potential just from illegal gambling alone,” he said.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.