Aquino defends quick purchase of Dengvaxia using gov't savings

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, December 14) — Former President Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino III on Thursday defended his administration's decision to buy Dengvaxia from French pharmaceutical company Sanofi Pasteur.

Speaking at the joint hearing of the Senate Blue Ribbon, Health, and Finance, Aquino said the government implemented the program for the public's protection.

"From our perspective, the choice is simple. We can implement it at this point and time for the protection or wait at least a year as a minimum and expose our people to a risk that could have been prevented because of this vaccine," Aquino said.

He responded to the senators' inquiry on the seeming hasty procurement of the dengue vaccine after a meeting between Aquino and top company officials in France.

The meeting was held on December 1 at the sidelines of the the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris. Weeks after that, the Budget Department approved the fund release for the vaccine purchase.

Blue Ribbon Committee Chairman Richard Gordon said the usual budget process takes longer.

He noted the budget release order was released on December 29, less than a month after the meeting in Paris.

Aquino defended the short process: If the government failed to immediately set aside funds, the vaccine program would face delay amid growing concerns over the spread of the mosquito-borne virus.

"If we do not do this at this point in time, you are practically saying that the first implementation of this vaccine will be in 2017 because it will be for the next budget cycle which will be under the new administration," he said.

He added, there would be no guarantee the project would be implemented soon if it is passed on to the next administration.

"Assuming that there is a learning curve also at the beginning of the administration, there is no guarantee that it will happen in the 2017 year," said Aquino.

He also defended the use of savings from the 2014-2015 budget to fund the program.

Aquino said the P3.5 billion spent for the vaccine wasn't in the budget as Dengvaxia was pending approval by the Food and Drug Administration.

The government, however, anticipated the vaccine would be able to meet regulatory requirements, so it identified savings to fund the Dengvaxia deal.

"We were projecting that once we had all these steps done we can buy this but when we buy this we have to have that money," he said.

Meanwhile, Health Secretary Janette Garin "strongly denied" negotiating with Sanofi to lower the price of Dengvaxia.

"I did not negotiate with the price, but Sanofi came to the Philippines and presented their proposal to the government," she said.

Garin said she only made a joke and asked to be updated on the Dengvaxia's progress as she came in last during a meeting.

"I said sana po buy one take one. If the private buys one, give one to the government but I never negotiated for the price because we didn't have the money," she added.

Garin was health secretary when the program was rolled out. She earlier denied "any wrongdoing" or corruption in the Dengvaxia deal.

The Aquino administration implemented the dengue immunization program that covered an estimated 830,000 students.

CNN Philippines' Cecille Lardizabal and AC Nicholls contributed to this report.