Health chief says documents prove no corruption
Health Secretary Enrique Ona on Thursday offered his courtesy resignation to President Benigno Aquino III as his month-long leave ended, the Inquirer learned.
“I will offer my courtesy resignation to the President because it’s the best thing to do in this situation,” Ona told the Inquirer in a telephone interview on Thursday.
The health secretary was in Malacañang on Thursday to see the President.
Ona said he had all the documents to prove that there was no corruption involved in the purchase of medicines. “I have all the documents that could show all the transactions were aboveboard and no one made money.”
Ona went on a medical leave on Oct. 28 purportedly because he had eczema and had an allergic reaction to a hair dye he used.
But days later, the President revealed that he had asked Ona to go on leave while he put together an explanation for his decision to purchase P800 million worth of Pneumococcal Conjugate Vaccine 10 (PCV 10) instead of the supposedly more cost-efficient PCV 13, as recommended by global health authorities.
There were apparently other reasons aside from the antipneumonia vaccines: Ona’s asking for a P600-million fund for the upgrading of the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine, over and above the Department of Health (DOH) budget, as well as authorizing the clinical trial of a malaria-dengue drug that did not have the approval of the Food and Drug Authority.
Ona was the first Cabinet secretary whom Mr. Aquino had asked to go on leave over a particular allegedly corrupt issue.
The President took note of the “immediate danger” that Ona’s decisions would bring, especially because the vaccines would affect children. This was the reason he asked the health secretary to go on leave while the latter prepared his explanation.
Mr. Aquino appointed Janette Garin, health undersecretary and fellow Liberal Party member, as acting secretary.
Garin provided documents
A source privy to the ongoing probe of the supposed anomalies in the DOH told the Inquirer “there is no indication that someone made money. What we are looking at is the discretionary powers of decision makers in the department.”
The source, who talked to the Inquirer on condition of anonymity, said Garin had provided investigators documents about questionable transactions in the DOH under Ona.
While Ona was on leave, the National Bureau of Investigation was looking into alleged irregularities in the purchase of antipneumonia vaccines in 2012 that involved Ona and Assistant Health Secretary Eric Tayag.
Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said the NBI investigation stemmed from a complaint filed in the Office of the President by the National Center for Pharmaceutical Access and Management, the Formulary Executive Council and the World Health Organization over the “inexplicable” change in the type of vaccine purchased.
Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said only the President knew the fate of Ona. “It’s better to wait for the President’s decision about that,” Coloma said when asked whether Ona would remain part of the President’s official family.
Coloma gave the same reply when asked further if Ona’s leave could be extended.
Coloma said the study on the immunization programs of the DOH, which stemmed from the controversy, was ongoing.
While Ona’s fate remains uncertain, Coloma said the DOH continues to carry out its important programs.
“The quality of public service is not affected because of this,” he said.
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