FORMER President Benigno Aquino III and two former Cabinet officials are expected to appear before the Justice department for a preliminary investigation on a criminal complaint over alleged anomalies in the P3.5-billion anti-dengue program.
Aquino, along with former Health secretary Janette Garin, former Budget secretary Florencio Abad and 44 other respondents have been subpoenaed to attend the hearing and submit their replies to the complaint filed against them by the Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption and the Vanguard of the Philippine Constitution Inc.
The VACC and VPCI filed the complaint against the respondents over possible violations of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act, the Government Procurement, Reform Act and the Revised Penal Code.
On May 15, Senior Assistant State Prosecutor Rossane Balauag required lawyers of the respondents to get their clients to attend the June 4 hearing for the submission of counter-affidavits, and to swear in before the DoJ panel.
Balauag said the panel took cognizance of the case despite the graft aspect of the complaint because the case also has a criminal aspect, particularly the violation of the Revised Penal Code, which the DoJ has primary jurisdiction over.
The Office of the Ombudsman has primary jurisdiction over graft cases.
“The complaint filed against respondents does not pertain to anti-graft alone. The DoJ assumes jurisdiction on other crimes, like technical malversation and violation of the procurement law, that’s why we assume jurisdiction. But there are other offenses covered under the jurisdiction of the NPS Leave it to us on how to properly evaluate,” she said.
Aside from Aquino, Abad and Garin also named respondents were DoH Undersecretaries Dr. Carol Tanio, Gerardo Bayugo, Lilibeth David and Mario Villaverde; and Assistant Secretaries Lyndon Lee Suy and Nestor Santiago.
Others named are the Health Department’s Financial Management Service director Laureano Cruz; directors Dr. Joyce Ducusin, Dr. May Wynn Belo, Dr. Leonila Gorgolon, Dr. Rio Magpantay, Dr. Ariel Valencia and Dr. Julius Lecciones; retired health undersecretaries Dr. Nemesio Gako, Dr. Vicente Belizario Jr., Dr. Kenneth Hartigan-Go; and Dr. Yolanda Oliveros, who served as Garin’s head executive assistant.
Also named as respondents in the complaint are officials and employees of the pharmaceutical company Zuellig, which supplied the controversial Dengvaxia vaccine, and Sanofi Pasteur, the manufacturer of Dengvaxia.
Health Secretary Francisco Duque III suspended the vaccination program in December 2017, after Sanofi Pasteur said those who had never been infected with the dengue virus could suffer more severe cases later on if they were given Dengvaxia. By then, more than 800,000 schoolchildren had already been given the vaccine.
Four leaders of the House of Representatives, meanwhile, said they believe the Senate would approve the proposed P1.161-billion supplemental budget for children who got the Dengvaxia vaccine for their medical aid when Congress resumes session on July 23.
“I believe this will be approved when we resume session next month. I know the Senate did their best,” Citizens Battle Against Corruption Rep. Sherwin Tugna said.
“It is but right to extend assistance to Dengvaxia recipients who were most affected by the effects of the vaccine,” he added.
On the other hand, Quezon City Rep. Winston Castelo said “the supplemental budget is a very crucial aid to provide medical assistance to around 900,000 children vaccinated with Dengvaxia.”
Batangas Rep. Raneo Abu, a deputy speaker, said he believes Senate President Vicente Sotto III would not waste time to lead the approval of the supplemental budget on July 23.
Davao City Rep. Karlo Nograles, principal author of the measure and chairman of the House committee on appropriations, advised the Department of Health to make use of its existing budget to start with the profiling and the monitoring of those who were inoculated with the Dengvaxia vaccine.
“I’m calling on the DoH to use their 2018 budget to assist our Dengvaxia victims even as we anticipate the Senate’s approval of the supplemental budget when session resumes on July 23. We should not wait for another two months before the DoH takes action,” he said.
With an overwhelming 231 votes, Congress approved on third and final reading the proposed P1.161-billion supplemental budget.
Senators Loren Legarda and JV Ejercito assured the public of the passage of the proposed P 1.161-billion supplemental budget.
Legarda, chairperson of the Senate committee on finance, vowed to take take this up as the first item of the agenda when Congress resume sessions after the State of the Nation Address in July.
The Senate adjourned its session early Thursday morning without taking up the measure.
Despite this temporary setback, Ejercito vowed to work doubly hard to ensure its immediate approval after Congress resumes its session.