Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II said that the NBI will look into the possible criminal liability of the government in the  P3.5 billion dengue vaccine project of the Department of Health (DOH). King Rodriguez/PPD, File

Aguirre orders NBI to look into dengue vaccine mess
(Philstar.com) - December 4, 2017 - 2:40am

MANILA, Philippines (Updated 11:47 a.m.) — Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II on Monday ordered the National Bureau of Investigation to look into possible criminal liability in the controversial P3.5-billion dengue vaccine project of the Department of Health.

In a press briefing on Monday, Aguirre said that he has not given the NBI a timeframe on their probe on the 2016 Dengvaxia deal between the government and pharmaceutical firm Sanofi.

He said the probe will look into whether government officials should be held liable for the seemingly rushed procurement of the vaccine and immunization of more than 700,000 children.

"Did the government follow... or did they receive the warning from Sanofi?" Aguirre said in Filipino. 

The announcement was actually made in late November. Sanofi said that it had found that in those who had not had dengue before and had been vaccinated with its Dengvaxia "more cases of severe disease could occur."

"Is there criminal liability? A graft and corruption aspect?" Aguirre said.

The justice chief also issued Department Order No. 763 directing and granting the NBI authority to "conduct case build up over the alleged danger to public health arising from the P3.5 billion anti-dengue vaccination drive of the [DOH] and Sanofi Pasteur."

Aguirre asked those whose children were adversely affected by the vaccine to come forward and help the government mitigate the effects.

Alleged deaths in Bataan

At the press conference on Monday for the press conference were Volunteers against Crime and Corruption president Dante Jimenez and lawyer Ferdinand Topacio.

Jimenez, for his part, said that he is working with the anti-crime group's regional coordinator to gather data on the children affected by the vaccine.

He said that their group has received reports that three children who received the Dengvaxia vaccine in April 2016 died.

"I am still verifying with our coordinator," Jimenez said.

The VACC head said that he will also ask Aguirre to request aid in the exhumation of the bodies.

Topacio, meanwhile, said that he has a team of lawyers willing to help in the probe to "bring those responsible for this greatest disaster every to befall our nation."

"This is genocide and people have to be responsible for this disaster," Topacio added.

The Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide considers certain acts "committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group" as genocide.

These acts include:

"killing members of the group causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part

imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group forcibly transferring children of the group to another group."

Overpricing?

Topacio also cited unverified information from social media posts to hint at overpricing in the vaccine contract. 

"India spent P9,3500,000 but here in the Philippines, it was P3 billion. According to the post, there is a big difference in price," Topacio said, stressing that the figures he was mentioning  is "raw data."

Jimenez said they still have to verify the supposed information in the social media posts.

He, however, said that it cannot be denied that former President Benigno Aquino III met with officials of Sanofi in November 2014 in Beijing and December 2015 in Paris, France.

In April 2016, the DOH gave free vaccines to children, nine years old and above, from public schools in Metro Manila, Central Luzon and CALABARZON region.

More than 733,000 children received at least the first of the three doses of the vaccine.

The Senate Committee on Health has said that it is also planning to conduct an inquiry on the DOH program next month.

The lower house of Congress is also looking to conduct a parallel probe on the matter.

This is a developing story.

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