Senators contradict Gordon's Dengvaxia report

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, April 12) — Several colleagues of Senator Richard Gordon, including the chairman of the health committee, raised questions on his draft report on the controversial Dengvaxia vaccine.

Senate Health Committee Chairman JV Ejercito on Thursday said he disagreed with the report's conclusion that former President Benigno Aquino III was a primary conspirator in the decision to use Dengvaxia in the mass immunization program.

In the Blue Ribbon committee report released Wednesday, Chairman Richard Gordon said Aquino and his for Cabinet officials are "primary conspirators and must be held criminally liable." He also recommended the filing of graft charges against Aquino and the other officials.

But Ejercito says the former president was only guilty of a "failure of leadership" and negligence when he gave the go-signal to his appointees to procure P3.5 billion pesos worth of Dengvaxia for the nationwide program.

Senator Panfilo Lacson also vouched for the former president's integrity.

"Having worked closely with ex-Pnoy, both in the Senate and Malacañang, it is difficult for me to believe that he was capable of committing graft and corruption," he said in a tweet.

Gordon's report 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.

Aquino previously said he was not advised against Dengvaxia from the time of its procurement until his administration rolled out the program.

Garin, Abad responsible – Ejercito

Ejercito said former Health Secretary Janette Garin and ex-Budget Chief Florencio "Butch" Abad should be the ones blamed for the Dengvaxia mess.

"I believe that while former President Benigno Aquino III is guilty of negligence for not exercising due diligence, it is his two Cabinet members who should be primarily held liable for the Dengvaxia mess that has endangered the lives of almost 1 million children,"  said in a statement.

Gordon and Ejercito have chaired at least two Senate hearings together on the issue. Their committees investigated the Aquino administration's questionable purchase of Dengvaxia and the program carried out by Garin in February 2016.

Ejercito said Garin pushed for the purchase of the vaccines from Sanofi Pasteur even if clinical trials were not yet concluded. Meanwhile, Abad facilitated and approved the release of the money without Congressional approval, he said.

"Senate hearings have shown that former Department of Health (DOH) Secretary Janette Garin and former Budget Secretary Florencio Abad are the principal conspirators in the anomalous procurement and questionable implementation of the vaccine," he said.

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.

Garin said her conscience is clear and she is ready to face any charge that will be filed, while Abad said Gordon's recommendation for graft charges "has absolutely no basis."

Ejercito also called on the government to help the public file a class suit against Sanofi Pasteur.

A joint complaint was filed against Aquino, Garin, Abad, and Sanofi officials over the Dengvaxia issue in February. Among the charges are violation of the procurement law, graft, and technical malversation.

More solons react

Senators also expressed apprehensions on the Dengvaxia report released by Gordon.

Gordon made the document public without his fellow senators' signature, as the Senate is still on break and will resume in May.

Members of the Liberal Party questioned why the report was released to the public before it was filed or sponsored by senators.

Senator Bam Aquino said, "Though this report has not been made available to the members of the Blue Ribbon Committee, if the final report reflects yesterday's statements and political leanings, we will have serious concerns with the conclusions made."

Meanwhile, members of the Magdalo Party-list said Gordon's findings were not based on evidence presented during the Senate hearings.

"It is obvious from the draft report that the committee has no appreciation of facts and solid evidence. There should have been thorough investigations and conciliation of facts and findings of medical experts from which the recommendations of the committee should have been based," it said in a statement.

Garin on Wednesday said Gordon's report was 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.

Around 10 percent of over 830,000 students who were immunized with Dengvaxia, but did not have a prior dengue infection, now face contracting a "serious disease," according to Sanofi Pasteur. The government also said at least 32,000 private patients were vaccinated with Dengvaxia.