joint House panel has recommended the filing of charges against former President Benigno S. Aquino III and other involved in the allegedly irregular procurement of P3.5 billion worth of the Dengvaxia anti-dengue vaccine from French pharmaceutical giant Sanofi Pasteur.
Surigao del Sur Rep. Johnny Pimentel, who chaired the House committee on good government and public accountability during the investigation of the Dengvaxia mess, said that the committee “did not clear anybody,” including Aquino of administrative, civil and criminal liability.
Pimentel, who was replaced by Camiguin Rep. Xavier Jesus Romualdo as the panel’s chairman, said Aquino is not off the hook, according to the recommendations of the committee.
“Yes, of course,” Pimentel told Manila Standard when asked if the committee which he used to head—included in its recommendations the filing of charges against Aquino.
“We recommended for the filing of necessary and appropriate cases to those involved in Dengvaxia. It is very clear in our report,” Pimentel said.
French pharmaceutical firm Sanofi Pasteur manufactured the drug, which in April 2016 was made the focus of a massive inoculation campaign by the Aquino administration.
In November 2017, Sanofi admitted that the vaccine could worsen symptoms for “seronegative” children or those who have never contracted dengue but were given Dengvaxia shots anyway.
By this time, nearly 900,000 Filipino schoolchildren had been vaccinated under the anti-dengue program.
The joint committee was supposed to approve the draft committee report on Tuesday. The approval was rescheduled to Wednesday but did not push through since Pimentel was replaced as the committee chairman following the surprise election of Speaker Gloria Macapagal Arroyo in July.
The draft 38-page committee report included in its recommendations, “the filing of the appropriate administrative and criminal cases against government officials and employees involved in the irregular
procurement of the dengue vaccine for having violated [Executive Order] No. 49, EO 292 on the disbursement of public funds, [Republic Act] No. 9184 and pertinent rules and regulations.”
It also recommended “the filing of the appropriate administrative and criminal cases against government officials and employees, including private individuals, involved in the irregularity on the registration of the Dengvaxia and on the procurement thereof under Revised Penal Code and Republic Act No. 3019 or the Anti Graft and Corrupt Practices Act.
The draft committee report also said, “despite noble intentions, the committees determined that there was undue haste in the procurement of the vaccines and the implementation of the dengue vaccination program disregarding existing laws, rules and regulations.”
It also noted, “Sanofi [the manufacturer] asserts their drug is safe and effective and refused to accept otherwise. The World Health Organization did not dispute the efficacy and safety of the vaccine, although it pointed out the increased risk for seronegative persons [those without prior dengue infection]… Dengvaxia is believed to be effective only on persons seropositive [with prior dengue]. Health Secretary [Francisco] Duque himself admitted that the vaccine has 66 percent efficacy.”
In its recommendations, the joint panel also said “there is an urgent need to review the present system of approval of vaccines by different agencies, determine institutional overlaps among the [Food and Drug Authority], [Formulary Executive Council] and [Department of Health] in their mandate and consequently, establish possible conflicts of interest in the processing and registration of dengue vaccine.”
It also recommended that the DoH form dengue response teams to address the increasing number of illness and death related to the dengue vaccination.”
The joint committee noted in its draft report that Dengvaxia program implemented during the Aquino administration “was a judgment call on the part of the previous administration in its effort to respond to
what they call an alarming rise in dengue cases in the country.”
“Indeed, the morbidity and mortality data at the time showed that dengue has become a worrisome monster killing hundreds of Filipinos.”
Several charges had been filed against Aquino and former Health Secretary Janette Garin before the Ombudsman in connection with the procurement and distribution of the Dengvaxia vaccine.
The House recommendation came as the family of an 11-year-old boy who died of dengue after being given Dengvaxia filed a complaint of reckless imprudence resulting in homicide against Garin.
In a letter signed by NBI Director Dante Gierran to Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales, the NBI recommended the conduct of a preliminary investigation against Aquino, former Budget Secretary Florencio Abad and Garin for conspiracy to introduce the Dengvaxia vaccine by circumventing procurement and other government processes.
Also included in the complaint were Health officials Maria Joyce Ducusin, Philippine Children’s Medical Center director Julius Lecciones, Maria Wilda Silva, Mario Baquilod and Rosalind Vianzon.
The NBI also implicated ex-Health secretary Paulyn Ubial for technical malversation for continuing the dengue vaccine program despite knowing that it was never part of the 2015 or 2016 General Appropriations Act.