DESCRIBING him as “manhid at walang malasakit, (insensitive and uncaring), Senator Richard Gordon said former President Benigno Aquino III could be charged with plunder over the P3.5- billion Dengvaxia mess—even though that is not among the findings of the Senate Blue Ribbon committee that he heads.
Gordon said there was a shortage of P200 million in receipts from the P3.5- billion budget allocated by the government for the mass immunization program of the anti-dengue vaccine from French giant drug firm Sanofi Pasteur.
“Somebody profited and lied here,” Gordon said in Filipino. “It’s clear as day, we were duped.”
Gordon, who oversaw the Senate investigation into allegations of wrongdoing in the purchase of the Dengvaxia vaccine administered to almost a million children, admitted that the blame had not been fully established. But he said government investigators can look into the matter.
“I smelled something fishy here,” he said, when asked if the anomaly was linked to the May 2016 elections.
Defending his committee’s decision to spare former Health secretary Paulyn Jean Ubial from any liability, Gordon said she can be a witness later on. She was not a part of the people who “cooked” the deal with Sanofi-Pasteur officials for an “experimental drug,” he said.
Gordon also said Ubial was not the “most guilty” when she continued to program begun under the Aquino administration by Health Secretary Janette Garin.
Based on the draft committee report that has yet to be submitted by Gordon to the senators for their signatures the greatest transgression of Aquino was that he put the lives of Filipino children in peril.
“He simply did not care. He was insensitive and showed no concern,” said Gordon in his report.
Due to Dengvaxia, he said many parents became worried, restless, and sleepless. “They were unsure of the lives of their children,” Gordon said.
He added that Aquino, Garin and former Budget secretary Florencio Abad and their co-conspirators must be held criminally liable and prosecuted for all the tragedy, damage and possible deaths resulting from the Dengvaxia mass vaccination program.
He said they can also be charged with reckless imprudence resulting in homicide, following the deaths of children who were vaccinated with Dengvaxia.
Garin, the senator noted, could not possibly have been able to release money through a Special Allotment Release Order and Notice of Cash Allocation, without the participation of Aquino and Abad.
Gordon said Aquino and Abad released the savings from the Miscellaneous Personnel Benefits Fund and committed technical malversation for programming funding to an activity that was not appropriated in budget by Congress.
“To get a SARO alone is very hard, but to get a SARO from savings of this magnitude of P3.5 billion leaves no doubt that it cannot be done without the President’s knowledge and approval,” said Gordon.
He said Aquino is responsible because he had caused the purchase of Dengvaxia that resulted in irreversible damage, possibly death to children and anxiety, sleepless nights, mental anguish and unnecessary expense on the part of the parents and guardians.
He also said the meetings of Aquino with Sanofi-Pasteur officials sent a signal that the company was being favored by the former President.
During these meetings, Sanofi-Pasteur already had a questionable reputation, with a string of cases involving bribery, false claims, anti-trust and other unethical practices, but Aquino still ordered the purchase of Dengvaxia, even thoug it was not in the 2015 budget.
“He (Aquino) was the one who decided to buy it. They spent P3.5 billion of taxpayers’ money to buy a largely untested drug against one disease.... He wasted the people’s money by spending P3.5 billion for a single, preventable disease...” said Gordon.
Gordon also asserted that Aquino is also guilty of malfeasance, misfeasance and nonfeasance, from the time he met with Sanofi officials in Beijing, China on Nov. 9, 2014 and Dec. 1, 2015, in violation of of the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees.
“President Aquino is the highest official of the land. By meeting with mere senior vice presidents of Sanofi-Pasteur, he was sending a strong message and perception he was dispensing undue patronage,” Gordon said.
“And each time he met, the bureaucracy started acting with undue haste, losing all forms of objectivity, ignoring warnings from experts, local and international, and started it in wanton disregard of the health and welfare of the children and putting them all in grave peril,” Gordon said.
Gordon accused Aquino of putting a premium on political gain or even greed over the lives of innocent children.
Garin, on the other hand, disregarded the eight conditions of the Formulary Executive Council before an exemption from the Philippine National Drug Formulary is granted to Dengvaxia.
The Blue Ribbon Committee also found some former and current officials of the Health Department lisable.
Garin said Gordon was airing personal opinions that had not yet been vetted by the Senate as a whole.
“While he is entitled to it being a seating Senator, I am honest in the belief that he has prejudged the case from the very beginning based on the inputs of vested interest parties who want to control the DoH,” she said.
Gordon also recommended legal action be taken against Sanofi.
The government conducted the mass vaccination of about 830,000 children from March until June 2016. But in November 2017, Sanofi-Pasteur announced that for those not previously infected by the dengue virus, severe cases of could occure later on.
A spokesman for Aquino said the former president was ready to face any charges that would be filed against him as a result of the Dengvaxia progam.
Abigail Valte, the former President’s spokesperson, also said Aquino had cooperated with the Senate investigation.
“His consistent participation in legislative investigations and other venues shows this. He will continue to face whatever additional complaints are filed in connection with this matter,” Valte said.
Garin, on the other hand, said Gordon’s narrative was “full of inaccuracies and half truths which reflects only the long perceived pre-judgment of the issue by Senator Gordon.”
“The presentation is one-sided and replete with innuendos of expedited government action. Timely and responsive government action is not a violation of the law. Moreover, the ‘report’ is just the personal opinion of Senator Gordon which has not been vetted by the Senate.”
“My conscience is clear and I am ready to answer any charge that will be filed in the proper forum,” she added.
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