Senators stand by Aquino on Dengvaxia decision
Several senators on Friday stood by former President Benigno Aquino III in the controversial purchase by his administration of the P3.5-billion antidengue vaccines as one of his critics filed a plunder and “mass murder” complaint against him in connection with the mass immunization program.
Aquino told a Senate hearing on the vaccination program, which started a few months before he stepped down last year, his administration could not leave people exposed to the mosquito-borne disease when there was a vaccine available.
In ‘good faith’
Sen. JV Ejercito believed Aquino approved the purchase in “good faith” and it was possible he was misinformed about the risks from the world’s first antidengue vaccine, Dengvaxia, produced by the French pharmaceutical giant Sanofi Pasteur.
“It’s the other officials who might have taken advantage and did not give him an extensive report that includes the risk if there was,” Ejercito said.
More than 830,000, mostly schoolchildren aged 9 years and older, have been vaccinated.
At Thursday’s hearing by the joint blue ribbon and health committees of the Senate, Aquino said no one had objected to Dengvaxia at the time it was considered for use by his administration.
Ejercito said a President relied on department secretaries and heads of agencies for information following due diligence.
“My personal take is that not all information was disclosed, so that the transaction would push through,” he said.
‘Done in haste’
He also believed the transaction was “done in haste,” and questioned the use of savings for such a major purchase.
“I find it also unusual that a P3.5-billion program does not have appropriation from Congress,” he said.
Sen. Joel Villanueva also indicated that he backed Aquino’s decision to go ahead with the vaccination program.
He said in an Instagram post Aquino “acted in the best interest of the country” based on the circumstances and the available information.
Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon also said Aquino relied on the expert advice of his health secretary.
“It was clear from the hearing that he did not violate any law,” Drilon said.
Augusto Syjuco Jr., a former Iloilo congressman, disagreed and on Friday charged Aquino and his health secretary, Janette Garin, of plunder, graft and corruption and mass murder in the Ombudsman.
Syjuco, a former head of the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority, said he filed the complaint on behalf of schoolchildren “who were inoculated with the deadly vaccine Dengvaxia, through apparent recklessness and negligence, and [Aquino and Garin’s] apparent anxiety to spend P3.5 billion of public funds.”
The eight-page complaint cited news reports and commentaries on the controversial immunization program, including posts from the “Thinking Pinoy” blog, a supporter of President Duterte.
Abigail Valte, a spokesperson for Aquino, said the public could judge Syjuco by his own admission that he had no evidence to back his complaint.
“Unfortunately, our judicial system is bogged down by frivolous suits like this one. At the end of the day, public money and precious time is wasted, and for what?” Abigail Valte said in a text message.
Garin welcomed the complaint, saying it would provide “an opportunity to put an end to the case and for the truth to come out.”
Sen. Richard Gordon, chair of the blue ribbon committee, gave Aquino the benefit of the doubt, but would not clear him completely.
“I cannot exculpate him because there would appear to be some negligence on his part,” Gordon told reporters in a phone interview.
He said Aquino should have been more careful and asked questions and consulted experts.
Gordon also said it was unfair to blame Garin’s predecessor, Enrique Ona, for the vaccine controversy.
Ona may have talked about getting the vaccine, but his signature did not appear on any of the documents and he did not meet Sanofi officials in Paris, Gordon said. —WITH REPORTS FROM DJ YAP, JULIE M. AURELIO AND NIKKO DIZON
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