Duque on Dengvaxia controversy: No 'mafia' at DOH

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Health Secretary Francisco Duque was grilled at his confirmation hearing before the Commission of Appointments Wednesday. (FILE PHOTO)

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, January 31) Department of Health (DOH) Secretary Francisco Duque and his officials denied the existence of a "mafia" that reportedly benefited from the controversial Dengvaxia program.

Duque was grilled by Senator Gringo Honasan at his confirmation hearing before the Commission of Appointments (CA) Wednesday.

"Is there a mafia or a syndicate that is part of the institutional damage that has plagued the department cumulatively, for the last so many years that benefits from any program or transaction?" Honasan asked.

Duque, along with supposed "mafia members" Health Undersecretary Carolina Vidal-Taiño and Management Service Director Laureano Cruz, denied the allegations.

"Given that I am only in the DOH the second time around for the last three and a half months, I see no evidence nor documents that would point out to the existence of a mafia in the DOH," Duque said.

A former consultant under then Health chief Paulyn Ubial, earlier claimed a DOH mafia profited from the purchase of the ₱3.5-billion Dengvaxia vaccines and other projects.

READ: Ex-Health Dept. consultant bares 'mafia' operating in DOH

The consultant claimed former Health Secretary Janette Garin allotted ₱3-billion to the Philippine Children's Medical Center (PCMC), while ₱550 million was "converted" and divided among DOH officials. Garin has denied the claims.

Undersecretary Taiño added the ₱556 million unused budget is still with the Philippine Children's Medical Center (PCMC), as verified by the Commission on Audit.

"Nandoon pa po ang pera (The money is still there.) Naka-open obligation po 'yan in favor of PCMC," she added.

Meanwhile, Taiño also said the amount for the 232,342 unused Dengvaxia vials worth ₱1.16 billion was refunded by vaccine maker Sanofi Pasteur.

"The cheque has been received by the Department of Health and was deposited to the Bureau of Treasury," she said.

Health Chief Duque added they have formally demanded for a full refund from Sanofi, to include the used vaccines.

READ: Duque: DOH formally demands full refund of Dengvaxia vaccines

The controversy over the dengue program began in November when Sanofi announced that the vaccine poses serious risks to those who had been vaccinated but have never had dengue. More than 800,000 children have received the vaccine since the program began in April 2016.