Aquino faces another plunder complaint over Dengvaxia procurement

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, May 10) — Former President Benigno Aquino III is facing another plunder complaint before the Office of the Ombudsman in connection with the nationwide immunization program his administration carried out in 2016.

Lawyer Ferdinand Topacio and Citizens Crime Watch President Diego Magpantay filed the complaint on Thursday against Aquino, former Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa, former Budget Chief Butch Florencio "Butch" Abad, former Health Secretary Janette Garin, and other former and current health officials.

It is the third complaint against Aquino before the Office of the Ombudsman over the vaccine controversy and the second one for for plunder. The first plunder case was filed by former TESDA Chief Augusto Syjuco. Gabriela Partylist has filed a separate graft complaint against Aquino. The former President is also facing seperate Dengvaxia-related complaints at the Commission on Elections and Justice Department.

The latest case accuses Aquino and his co-respondents of pocketing part of the 3.5 billion-peso budget for the procurement of dengue vaccine Dengvaxia from Sanofi Pasteur.

The complainants claimed only P3 billion of the budget was released to the Philippine Children's Medical Center, which conducted pre-procurement activities, while the remaining P500 million remains unaccounted for.

They also charged Aquino and his co-respondents with graft and malversation for the alleged hastened procurement of the vaccine.

"The P3.5 billion SARO (special allotment release order) was approved in record time. 10 days! Holidays pa ah, kapaskuhan. Can you imagine how efficient they were in trying to plunder the national treasury.....Itong Dengvaxia program ay ginamit bilang cover sa pagnanakaw sa pamahalaan," Topacio said.

Aquino's spokesperson Abigail Valte said the allegations of Topacio - a lawyer for Volunteers against Crime and Corruption (VACC) - are unfounded, but added the former President is ready to respond when required to do so.

"The latest VACC complaint has less to do with a true desire to seek accountability, but more of a ploy to get more government posts for themselves. Even the severely inebriated can see the pattern: anyone who files a complaint against the former president is magically given an appointment," Valte said in a text message.

Abad also denied irregularities in the procurement of the vaccines.

"I am certain and confident that no fraud nor any irregularity accompanied the procurement of the vaccines. So the complaint is baseless," he said.

This is the third complaint against Aquino before the Office of the Ombudsman over the vaccine controversy. The first plunder case was filed by former TESDA Chief Augusto Syjuco. Gabriela Partylist has filed a separate graft complaint against Aquino. The former President is also facing seperate Dengvaxia-related complaints at the Commission on Elections and Justice Department.

Dengvaxia was administered to over 800,000 students in a school-based government immunization program in April 2016.

Pharmaceutical company Sanofi Pasteur in November 2017 announced the vaccine posed potentially severe dengue risks among those with no dengue history.

The resulting panic prompted the Health Department to suspend its program and the Senate to investigate the ₱3.5 billion spent on it.

President Rodrigo Duterte has ordered the creation of an independent experts panel to look into the controversy following conflicting official reports on deaths allegedly caused by Dengvaxia.