Aquino calls for dismissal of poll complaint over Dengvaxia

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Former Health Secretary Janet Garin and former President Benigno Aquino III

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, March 15) — Former President Benigno Aquino III on Thursday called for the dismissal of an election complaint against him in line with the dengue immunization program.

"Ang nararapat na hantungan ng ganitong reklamo ay ang basurahan. Inaasahan po nating gagawin ng COMELEC (commission on Elections) ang tama, at iyan ay i-dismiss ang reklamo sa lalong madaling panahon," Aquino said in a press briefing.

[Translation: This complaint should be junked. We expect the Comelec to do the right thing, and that is to dismiss the case as soon as possible."]

The former president filed his counter-affidavit before the Comelec during its preliminary investigation on his administration's alleged poll offense.

Aquino and former Cabinet officials are accused of violating the Omnibus Election Code when they approved the immunization program within the 45-day ban on using public funds ahead of the elections.

Aquino said the purchase order for the dengue vaccine Dengvaxia was released on March 9, 2016, or 16 days before the election ban that began March 25.

The immunization program was rolled out on April 4, 2016, a few weeks before the May 9, 2016 polls. Dengvaxia was administered to over 800,000 students in a school-based government immunization program.

TIMELINE: The Dengvaxia controversy

The Omnibus Election Code prohibits the "release, disbursement or expenditure of public funds" 45 days before a regular election or 30 days before special election.

Garin: Ban doesn't cover health programs

Former Health Secretary Janet Garin, however, said the government's immunization program, including the Dengvaxia purchase, is not covered by the election ban.

"When we inquired we were told na 'di kailangan ng exemption on the health programs," Garin said.

Aquino added, "The job of protecting the people's health cannot be held in abeyance by elections."

Garin and former Budget Secretary Florencio "Butch" Abad also appeared before the Comelec preliminary probe.

Aquino cries harassment

Aquino said there may be an agenda behind the election complaint.

"Klaro namang harassment lang ang punto. Tama marahil ang sinasabi ng iilan na di katarungan ang layunin dito, kundi ang magpapansin para ma-appoint sa puwesto," Aquino said.

[Translation: "This is clear harassment. What the others are saying may be true that the purpose is not for justice, but to be appointed to the government."]

Without naming names, he noted some VACC are now occupying government posts.

In January, President Rodrigo Duterte appointed VACC Chairman Dante Jimenez to the Presidential Anti-Corruption Commission. The VACC also filed an impeachment complaint against Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales and a criminal complaint against detained Senator Leila de Lima. Both are Duterte's critics.

The VACC denied claims politics was behind the complaints.

The Dengvaxia mess

Under Aquino's watch, the government administered Dengvaxia, the world's first dengue vaccine.

Vaccine maker Sanofi Pasteur later announced the vaccine had potentially severe dengue risks for those who have had no dengue history. But it noted there were no reported deaths from Dengvaxia, and that it remains safe.

Public panic prompted the Health Department to suspend the immunization program and the Senate to investigate the P3.5-billion vaccine purchase.

Experts from the University of the Philippines-Philippine General Hospital on January 2 reported three out of the 14 child deaths they examined were caused by "dengue shock syndrome." The children had taken Dengvaxia. Experts added two of the three deaths may be caused by vaccine failure.

Aquino and Garin are facing mass murder and plunder charges. They both denied irregularities in the Dengvaxia purchase.

CNN Philippines' AC Nicholls contributed to this report.