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Ona probed on vaccines

Health chief denies any irregularities as NBI looks into mess

THE Department of Justice has ordered the National Bureau of Investigation to probe the allegedly questionable procurement of vaccines by the Department of Health in 2012 that was approved by Health Secretary Enrique Ona, who is on leave.

Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said Monday the NBI had been tasked to investigate the matter since June, but that it was going full-blast with its investigation only now.

Ona
She said it was President Benigno Aquino III who asked her to order the NBI to look into the questionable purchase of the vaccines after receiving complaints from stakeholders.

But De Lima said the NBI’s investigation was being hampered by the refusal of some Health officials to cooperate.

She said the NBI would  summon Ona, Assistant Secretary Eric Tayag and several other Health officials to shed light on the matter.

“Said procurement is alleged to have been made in 2012 as directed by Assistant Secretary Tayag and made possible by a certificate of exemption issued by Secretary Ona,” De Lima said.

She made her statement even as Ona on Monday described the allegations against him as “malicious and false.”

“I am hearing some of those [allegations] for the first time,” said Ona who is said to have gone on a “forced leave” to prepare the answers to Aquino’s questions on the government’s immunization and other health programs.

He said none of the allegations against him was true.

Tayag, whose name has also been dragged into the controversy, could not be reached for comment. But in a statement it issued late Monday afternoon, the Department of Health said it would fully cooperate with the Department of Justice and the NBI.                

De Lima said the NBI’s investigation covered the purchase of Pneumococcal Conjugate Vaccine 10 or PCV 10, which is said to be contrary to the recommendations of several stakeholders in the health industry.

De Lima said the Department of Health proceeded with the procurement of PCV 10 despite  the recommendation of the National Center for Pharmaceutical Access and Management, the Formulary Executive Council and the World Health Organization that the department purchase the PCV 13, which is said to be more cost-effective.

Ona earlier was allegedly forced to go on leave after Aquino ordered him to fully explain some questions on his department’s vaccination program.

Aquino said he had questions for Ona, and specifically about the government’s vaccination campaign and the balance between the preventive and curative aspects of public health.

Ona said he asked for a four-week leave starting on Oct. 28 for “personal and health reasons.”

Undersecretary Janette Garin was designated as the department’s officer in charge in Ona’s absence, and she said Ona had to go on sick leave because his prescription medication had been ineffective in controlling his severe reaction to hair dye.

On Monday, a source said Aquino had told Ona to investigate the other deals in his department that were said to have been rigged, but Ona allegedly repeatedly ignored Aquino’s order because he insisted he “trusted his men.”

“President Aquino has had enough of the complaints about the anomalous biddings and contracts against Ona. He has issued several memoranda to Ona,” said the source who is privy to Cabinet meetings.

“Every Cabinet meeting the President, without fail, always asked for the result of the investigations but Ona kept on saying ‘My people are clean. I trust them. All biddings are above board but I will look into it’.

“For example, if some sectors held a press conference or a rally about health issues, the President would issue a memo and instruct Ona to investigate the matter. The President got tired of issuing memos because he never got answers. And so he finally decided to personally instruct Ona to explain the issues the President had raised.”

The source said President Aquino himself had started to notice that the issues involving Ona had been piling up and remained hanging.

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