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Ona, Tayag probed over vaccine mess

Edu Punay - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines - Officially on leave and rumored to be on the way out of the Cabinet, Health Secretary Enrique Ona is under investigation for a questionable procurement of vaccines worth P833 million in 2012. Also being investigated for the same possible anomaly is Assistant Secretary Eric Tayag.

This was confirmed yesterday by Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, who said that President Aquino ordered the probe after receiving complaints from concerned stakeholders and “relevant bodies.”

She did not identify the groups that reported the alleged irregularity to the President.

The National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) has started the probe, De Lima said.

Ona is on a month-long leave, supposedly while recuperating from an allergic reaction to hair dye.

The STAR could not reach Ona and Tayag for comment.

“We will cooperate fully with the NBI by providing all the documents that they need,” Department of Health (DOH) spokesman Lyndon Lee Suy said in an interview.

He declined to comment further, saying they have not yet received “official communication” from the NBI.

At Malacañang, deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said Ona would have enough time to explain his side.

“Secretary Ona was given time to answer questions that were propounded by the President. He was given a month. Let’s allow him the time to put the answers being asked of him,” Valte said in an interview. “Let’s give him time to come up with explanations about the questions that were propounded to him.”

De Lima said the complaints against Ona and Tayag stemmed from their approval of the purchase of Pneumococcal Conjugate Vaccine 10 (PCV 10) – a vaccine for pulmonary diseases for children – despite recommendations from the National Center for Pharmaceutical Access and Management, Formulary Executive Council and the World Health Organization (WHO) that PCV 13 was more suitable and cost effective.

“Cost effective in the sense that PCV 13 covers more diseases unlike PCV 10, which has limited coverage,” she explained.

A check with the DOH website showed that the project was worth over P833 million.

De Lima said the Bids and Awards Committee was prepared to procure PCV 13, but “all of a sudden, as alleged, the procurement of PCV 10 was instead ordered by Asec. Tayag.”

“It also appears that the certificate of exemption – a requirement for the procurement – was issued by Sec. Ona for PCV 10. That was what the relevant bodies questioned,” De Lima pointed out.

She said the bureau might look into both administrative and criminal aspects of the questionable transaction.

“Administratively, the President has disciplinary authority over presidential appointees. In the criminal aspect, if there is violation or irregularity that can fall under the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act and within the jurisdiction of the ombudsman,” she said.

The justice secretary said the NBI actually started a discreet probe last June, but encountered difficulty in gathering information reportedly due to lack of cooperation from certain health officials.

“They were given a runaround, so I told them to better open the investigation so they could officially issue subpoena on DOH officials to further shed light on the issue,” she added.

Ona has reportedly displeased President Aquino over several other issues, including the official’s requests for P600 million for the rehabilitation and renovation of the Research Institute of Tropical Medicine, and P1 billion for the same work on the state-run Dr. Jose Fabella Memorial Hospital.

The President had also frowned upon Ona’s request that he and an undersecretary be issued a P3-million Toyota Land Cruiser and a Toyota Hilux.

The official was also said to have earned the ire of Aquino after he pushed through with the inauguration of a medical facility in northern Luzon despite the Chief Executive’s canceling the event at the last minute. Sheila Crisostomo, Alexis Romero

vuukle comment

ABIGAIL VALTE

ALEXIS ROMERO

ANTI-GRAFT AND CORRUPT PRACTICES ACT

ASSISTANT SECRETARY ERIC TAYAG

AT MALACA

BIDS AND AWARDS COMMITTEE

DE LIMA

ONA

ONA AND TAYAG

PRESIDENT AQUINO

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