Senate draft committee report: Aquino, Garin, Abad 'criminally liable' for Dengvaxia mess

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, April 11) — Former President Benigno Aquino III, ex-Health Secretary Janette Garin, and other officials are "criminally liable" for the Dengvaxia mess, the Senate committee draft report found.

Senate Blue Ribbon Committee Chairman Richard Gordon on Wednesday released his panel's report, which has yet to be signed by his fellow senators when session resumes in May.

He said that based on the committee's investigation, Aquino, Garin, and former Budget Secretary Butch Abad were "primary conspirators" in the controversial procurement of P3.5 billion-worth of the dengue vaccine.

Gordon said the purchase of Dengvaxia was done with "undue haste."

"He ordered to buy it even if it was not in the 2015 budget," Gordon said, referring to Aquino.

The Budget Department, then headed by Abad, issued a ₱3.5-billion Special Allotment Release Order (SARO) to Garin's office to purchase the vaccines in December 2015.

Gordon said the Dengvaxia purchase was railroaded in time for the 2016 national elections, which makes it highly irregular.

"Garin et. al could not possibly have been able to release money and notice of cash allocation without the participation and approval of President Aquino and Secretary Abad, who realigned the savings from the miscellaneous personal benefits fund and committed technical malversation for programming funding to an activity that was not appropriated a budget by Congress," the senator said.

Gordon said graft cases should be filed against the involved government officials. The report also recommends the filing of cases of anti-graft and corrupt practices act, code of conduct and ethical standards for public officials, perjury and false testimony against other Health officials, including Dr. Julius Lecciones, head of the Philippines Children's Medical Center (PCMC).

PCMC was chosen to be the lead in the mass vaccination program despite its lack of absorptive capacity to utilize the P3.5 billion budget.

Gordon, meanwhile, did not find any violation committed by Garin's successor, former Health Secretary Paulyn Ubial despite her expanding the immunization program to Cebu.

He said Aquino favored Dengvaxia maker Sanofi Pasteur despite the vaccine maker's "sordid" reputation.

"Hindi pa tapos ang test binibili na nila. (Research was not yet done but they were already in the process of buying). A discerning leader would have exercised greater caution. He wasted money," he said.

Gordon also wants Sanofi Pasteur to be charged with violation of selling a defective product, and endangering, hurting, and possibly killing children who were injected with Dengvaxia. He said criminal cases should also be considered against Sanofi officials.

We were prejudged

Garin spoke up following Gordon's allegations on who should take the flak for the Dengvaxia mess.

Speaking to CNN Philippines Wednesday, Garin said the report is based on "inaccuracies and half-truths."

She said Gordon prejudged everyone even before the investigation began.

 

Garin welcomed the report's transmittal to the court.

For his part, Abad said, "I haven't seen the report, but the recommendation for graft charges have absolutely no basis."

Kids at risk

Gordon said Aquino committed "grave human rights abuse" when he put the health of over 800,000 vaccinated children at risk by using an "experimental drug" in a mass vaccination program.

"The greatest sin and transgression of Aquino was to put the lives of Filipino children... Nilagay niya sa peligro ang maraming bata na tumanggap nito. He simply did not care. Siya ay manhid at walang malasakit. Maraming magulang ang nag aalala, balisa, at hindi makatulog," he said.

[Translation: The greatest sin and transgression of Aquino was to put the lives of Filipino children. He placed the vaccinated children's life at risk. He simply did not care. Parents are worried.]

He said parents who were not informed about the risks of Dengvaxia should band together and exact accountability from Sanofi and government officials responsible for the mess.

The report also recommended to pass a legislation on the creation of an independent disease control and surveillance agency within the Health Department that can arbitrate against political decisions that are not based on evidence.

Aquino, Garin ready to face raps

Aquino's spokesperson Abi Valte said the former president is ready to face charges.

"Former President Aquino has always demonstrated his readiness to answer questions about his decisions as president... He will continue to face whatever additional complaints are filed in connection with this matter," Valte said in a message.

Meanwhile, Garin, said the report Gordon were based on his personal opinions, which was not even vetted by the entire Senate.

"I believe that the narrative is full of inaccuracies and half-truths which reflect only the long perceived pre-judgment of the issue by Senator Gordon.  The presentation is one-sided and replete with innuendos of expedited government action," she said in a text message.

The draft committee report was based on the seven hearings conducted by joint Senate committees.