Noynoy Aquino said he acted in good faith. And besides, he explained, nobody ever told him that what he was doing was wrong.
These are the two “defenses” that Aquino seem to be preparing against charges that his administration endangered more than 800,000 children when he implemented a hastily-prepared vaccination program to combat the dengue virus.
Good faith is always presumed in a government program, based primarily on the principle that no sane officialdom will act against the interest of the people. The same presumption of good faith got Noynoy and his budget officials off the hook in the Disbursement Acceleration Program, which was first declared illegal by the Supreme Court but which later allowed the defense in a second, companion ruling.
President Rodrigo Duterte himself cited the presumption of good faith in official actions of everyone in government, speaking about the Dengvaxia scandal earlier this week. But many media outlets were only too willing to play down the fact that Duterte emphasized, as well, that he will await the results of the various investigations being conducted by both Congress and the Executive before acting on the matter.
In other words, Aquino, in his appearance before the Senate yesterday, once again asked the public to allow him the presumption of good faith. But he neglected to mention why his government’s indecent and unprecedented haste in implementing the P3.5-billion Dengvaxia immunization program—from the approval of the campaign to the allocation of the required funds to the strange method of implementing the rollout—destroys his plea to be given that benefit which he seeks.
To recap, it took Aquino and his health and budget officials only a year to devise an immunization program that had not yet been cleared for implementation on such a massive scale. He met suspiciously with officials of Dengvaxia maker Sanofi several times, disregarded warnings by reputable international and local public health groups, skirted budgetary processes by realigning funds for the program from a specifically earmarked fund to a government hospital and rolled out the massive program during that very tight period from late 2015 to right before he stepped down in the middle of last year.
I’m not saying that Aquino did not have the best of intentions when he and his officials dreamed up the campaign. All I’m saying is that his government’s actions nullified his excuses that he was only thinking of the welfare of his “bosses” when he short-circuited a system intended to prevent such hasty decision-making—especially in a matter like the Dengvaxia rollout, where his haste may waste many lives.
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As for nobody telling him that he was doing anything wrong, that is still Aquino’s fault. If he had not developed a culture where his officials were so afraid of opposing him while he was president, Noynoy would have heard the opposition to his Dengvaxia program – and it would certainly have given him pause.
There certainly was opposition enough, and from very credible, apolitical sources. But the World Health Organization and the various local public health specialists who advised caution before the rollout never had a chance.
If Noynoy had not always been so sure that he was right even if he had only heard one side, he would have encouraged critics like the Department of Health’s own Formulary Executive Council that wanted to—and which had every right to—overrule the Food and Drug Administration on Dengvaxia. But the FEC, unfortunately, was ignored by Health Secretary Janette Garin, the official tasked by Aquino to implement the program, damn the torpedoes.
The context here is that Aquino surrounded himself with sycophants and yes-men during his term because he considered even the slightest criticism as a personal slight. This is also the reason why Aquino could listen only to the advice of a suspended national police chief when he planned and executed the raid that would end up as the Mamasapano Massacre—Aquino only listened to the people he wanted to listen to, and they always told him what he wanted to hear.
Aquino cannot claim good faith when his implementation of the Dengvaxia program was the result of his usual process of deciding first and letting his subalterns do whatever dirty work needed to get the job done afterwards. And he must not be allowed to pretend one more time that he answers to “bosses” when he always unilaterally decided their fate—whether they liked it or not, whether they were consulted or not or whether the decision would harm them or not.
Aquino, despite his supposedly being descended from icons of democracy, was really the worst kind of despot: the unthinking, unfeeling, unaccepting of responsibility kind.
Aquino never cared about the people, whom he considered mere numbers needed by a foreign drug company in order to test an unproven vaccine. He was the boss of all bosses—and everyone should heave a long sigh of relief knowing that he no longer is.