DOJ panel cites missing information in Dengvaxia criminal complaint vs. Aquino

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, March 23) — A Justice Department panel grilled members of two advocacy groups on Friday over a criminal complaint they filed against former President Benigno Aquino III on the Dengvaxia program.

While members of the Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption (VACC) and the Vanguards of the Philippine Constitution, Inc. (Vanguards) initially thought they were subpoenaed for a preliminary investigation on the issue, it turned out the panel had called them over deficiencies in their complaint instead.

The two groups filed a joint complaint at the Justice Department against several respondents, including Aquino in February. They accused the respondents of violation of the procurement law, graft, and technical malversation.

However, missing information in the complaint had prevented the Department of Justice (DOJ) panel from issuing subpoenas to the respondents.

The DOJ panel of prosecutors led by senior assistant state prosecutor Rosan Balawag pointed out that none of the 20 respondents identified in the complaint had addresses.

Aside from Aquino, the complaint also includes former Budget Secretary Butch Abad, and former Health Secretary Janette Garin.

Balawag said the complainant failed to identify specific officials from Sanofi Pasteur, and Zuellig Pharma, which it also named respondents in the case. Sanofi manufactures Dengvaxia while Zuellig is its local distributor.

"You made mention likewise of a complaint against Zuellig Pharma and Sanofi Pasteur, however again-there were no names. No addresses. No allegations to what are you complaining against them," she said.

It also denied the complainant's earlier motion to issue subpoenas for documents from different government agencies concerned with the Dengvaxia program, stressing such documents should be produced by the complainants.

"It is not for the panel to collate evidence for you. You should be the ones submitting to us the evidence," Balawag said.

The VACC and the Vanguards were given until April 20 to provide all the missing information and additional attachments asked of them.

However, the groups shrugged off what happened saying it's all part of "due process."

"There's nothing wrong with that. In fact the rules provide that we can file a supplemental affidavit. So there's no insinuation even of defects," VACC lawyer Manny Luna said.

Luna said respondents gave the documentary evidence they need to the Commission on Elections (Comelec), where VACC had also filed a complaint over the program's alleged violation of the 45-day election ban on government disbursements.

The group said it intends to submit copies of the said documents to the DOJ as part of their complaint.

"This is a legal tactic actually so that they will disclose information that they did not want to disclose at first," Luna said.

Last December 1, the government halted its nationwide dengue vaccination program that began in 2016 after 837,000 children were immunized. The move was made after Sanofi revealed the results of its study showing that those who got the Dengvaxia shot but had no previous dengue infection could suffer "severe diseases."

READ: Health, Budget offices want to use Sanofi refund to help Dengvaxia patients