Aquino charged anew over Dengvaxia

Elizabeth Marcelo - Philstar.com
Aquino charged anew over Dengvaxia

A 13-year-old student, who has no previous history of dengue, showing her rashes, which she said started to appear days after receiving her third shot of Dengvaxia in November. The STAR/Elizabeth Marcelo

MANILA, Philippines — A second criminal complaint was filed against former president Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III and former Health secretary Janette Garin in connection with the P3.5-billion dengue mass vaccination program which they started implementing in April 2016.

Accompanied by Gabriela party-list Representatives Emmi de Jesus and Arlene Brosas, more than a dozen mothers Friday trooped at the Office of the Ombudsman and filed a graft complaint against Aquino, Garin, former Budget secretary Florencio “Butch” Abad and former executive secretary Paquito Ochoa.

Also named as private respondents in the complaint were five officials of pharmaceutical giant Sanofi Pasteur namely; vice president Guillaume Leroy, chief executive officer Olivier Brandicourt, medical director Ruby Dizon, Asia Pacific head Thomas Triomphe and Sanofi-Aventis Philippines country chair Carlito Realuyo.

More than 70 mothers were named as complainants representing their children who received shots of the anti-dengue vaccine with brand name Dengvaxia, manufactured by Sanofi Pasteur.

Just last week, former Technical Education and Skills Development Authority director general Augusto Syjuco Jr. filed a plunder complaint before the ombudsman against Aquino and Garin also in connection with the controversial Dengvaxi vaccination program.

In their complaint, the Gabriela Women's Party (GWP) and the mothers of the concerned children, said Aquino, Garin, Abad, Ochoa and the officials of Sanofi must be held liable for violation of Section 3 (e) and 3 (g) of Republic Act 3019 or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act.

Section 3 (e) of RA 3019 prohibits public officials from giving unwarranted benefit, advantage or preference to a private party, or from causing any party, including the government, undue injury.

Section 3 (g) meanwhile, prohibits public officials from entering into a contract or transaction grossly disadvantageous to the government.

The complainants said Aquino, Garin, Abad and Ochoa conspired with the officials of Sanofi in purchasing bulk of the vaccines in 2015 even when there was no comprehensive study yet on the efficacy and risks of drug.

“It bears stressing that no studies on the safety, efficacy and cost-efficiency of the vaccine have been made as it was only in January of 2016 that the FEC (Formulary Executive Committee) met to discuss the same,” the complaint read.

During the recent Senate hearing on the Dengvaxia controversy, former Health undersecretary Susan Mercado revealed that the FEC was “very much against the use of Dengvaxia” and recommended just a stage-by-stage procurement.

The complainants said that even prior to FEC's recommendation, the Department of Budget and Management, on Dec. 29, 2015 already issued a Special Allotment Release Order (SARO) in the amount of P3.5 billion for the purchase of Dengvaxia.

The complainants said the SARO was released a few weeks after Aquino and Garin met with the officials of Sanofi Pasteur in Paris, France on December 1.

“At the very least, the Public Respondents are guilty of gross inexcusable negligence when they inexcusably failed to duly review and assess the efficacy of the vaccine and to do what was obviously expected of them as public officials,” the complaint read.

“Respondents' acts are both cruel and appalling, as it affects us and the more than 800,000 other children who were inoculated with the controversial vaccine,” it added.

The complaints said Aquino “cannot feign ignorance and claim” that he ordered the purchase of the vaccines to save the children of the dreaded disease.

“The fact remains that whether he (Aquino) acted in conspiracy with Sanofi officials or miserably failed to exercise sound judgement or discretion, the lives of more than 800,000 children are now at risk because of his acts and billions of pesos from the government coffers have been disbursed illegally under his incumbency,” the complaint read.

The vaccines were administered in three shots to about 800,000 public school students aged nine years old and above especially in the National Capital Region, Central Luzon and CALABARZON.

The Department of Health suspended the mass immunization program on December 1 of this year, a day after Sanofi Pasteur disclosed that Dengvaxia poses threat of severe symptoms to those who had not been afflicted with dengue before.

Accompanied by her mother, a 13-year-old girl joined the filing of the complaint before the ombudsman. The girl recounted that she had high fever and severe headache three days after receiving the third shot of Dengvaxia in November of this year.

The girl also showed to reporters rashes in her arms and neck, which, she said, started to appear about a week ago.

“I'm afraid for my daughter. I don't want her to suffer the same fate of a student in Mariveles. I don't want to lose her,” the girl's mother said.

A Grade 5 female student in Mariveles, Bataan died of severe dengue in October 2016 supposedly after a few months since she received her first Dengvaxia shot in April. The casualty had no previous history of dengue.

In a text message to reporters, Aquino's spokesperson Abigail Valte said the former president is prepared to answer the allegations.

“The former president’s attendance at the senate committee hearing has proven one thing: he takes accountability seriously and will continue to answer any and all allegations thrown at him,” she said.

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