Committee chairman Sen. Richard Gordon presented the unsigned report that he said was based on evidence gathered during the hearings on allegations of irregularities in the purchase and use of the discredited anti-dengue Dengvaxia vaccine for the government’s immunization program.
Michael Varcas
Senate panel: Aquino, execs liable for Dengvaxia conspiracy
Marvin Sy, Aurea Calica (The Philippine Star) - April 12, 2018 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — Former president Benigno Aquino III and some of his officials should be prosecuted for being ultimately responsible for putting the lives of thousands of children in danger by implementing an anti-dengue immunization program using a vaccine that turned out to be unsafe, the Senate Blue Ribbon committee said in its findings released yesterday.

Committee chairman Sen. Richard Gordon presented the unsigned report that he said was based on evidence gathered during the hearings on allegations of irregularities in the purchase and use of the discredited anti-dengue Dengvaxia vaccine for the government’s immunization program.

Aquino said he has yet to get a copy of the report and would issue a formal statement after he reads the report.

“Was there a panel? It seemed that it was a solo act. Anyway, in legislative inquiries that I participated in, the process is (to) gather facts then arrive at a conclusion. The Dick Gordon show started with a conclusion and tried to produce facts to support it,” Aquino added.

In the committee report, Gordon said there was “obvious conspiracy” between Aquino and former health chief Janette Garin to facilitate the procurement of Dengvaxia during an election year.

“The confederacy to procure and inject en masse was not merely ill-advised or unwise, it was criminal,” the report stated.

Apart from Aquino and Garin, the committee also found former budget secretary Florencio Abad and Philippine Children’s Medical Center executive director Julius Lecciones liable for violation of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act.

“Aquino, Garin, Abad and other officials are primary conspirators and must be held criminally liable because, as succinctly put by the old Spanish legal maxim ‘El que es causa de la causa, es causa del mal causado’ – he who is the cause of the cause is the cause of the evil caused and must be prosecuted for all the tragedy, damage and possible deaths resulting from the Dengvaxia mass vaccination program,” the report stated.

Gordon said he suspected some of the parties involved in the purchase of Dengvaxia profited from the transaction. But he admitted he had no proof to back this up.

The report also indicated that Aquino and Garin were likewise liable for violation of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act by persuading, inducing and influencing another public officer to perform an act in violation of the rules and regulations and the law.

Gordon called the appointment of Garin an act of patronage politics, “worsened by enfeebling agencies in the DOH that led to regulatory capture.”

“No one in the bureaucracy could anymore say no to him and her. Whenever Aquino and Garin met with Sanofi, the bureaucracy offered no resistance at all, following meekly as lambs, with DOH acting like a runaway train,” the report stated. Sanofi is the maker of Dengvaxia.

“And each time they met, the bureaucracy started acting with undue haste, losing all forms of objectivity, ignoring warnings from experts, local and international, and started acting in wanton disregard of the health and welfare of the children and putting them in grave peril,” it added.

Gordon recalled how former DOH undersecretary Kenneth Hartigan-Go had testified that “a political decision to allot budget from the national agencies’ savings was already made by a higher committee.”

It was Aquino, he said, who carried the heaviest responsibility in the Dengvaxia mess.

“The greatest sin and transgression of Aquino was to put the lives of Filipino children in grave peril. He simply did not care,” the senator said.

He also called Aquino “callous and uncaring,” qualities the former president demonstrated after the Mamasapano tragedy.

“This is in keeping with the character of the President. During the Mamasapano tragedy, he didn’t even visit the body of the fallen SAFs (Special Action Forces),” he added.

In the report, Gordon questioned the appointment of Garin as the replacement of Enrique Ona, who resigned in December of 2014 “under mysterious circumstances.”

Gordon argued that the appointment of Garin was based on purely political considerations based on her background.

He described Garin as “an OB-Gyne” and former congresswoman from a long-time political family from the Visayas with limited experience in public health and medical practice compared with her predecessors.

“Her appointment came as the Aquino government was about to end its term and whose nominated successor was engaged in a very close political contest during the 2016 presidential elections,” Gordon said.

Gordon pointed out that Garin could not possibly have released the P3.5 billion in funds, sourced from savings incurred in the first 11 months of the year, without the participation and approval of Aquino and Abad.

Also found liable were Hartigan-Go, Food and Drugs Administration’s Lourdes Santiago and Melody Zamudio, DOH’s Joyce Ducusin and Mario Baquilod. They were cited for allowing themselves to be persuaded or influenced by their superiors to facilitate the approval of Dengvaxia for distribution in the country.

The committee also considered them liable for violation of the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees because in spite of the various warnings and red flags from different countries about the use of Dengvaxia, they proceeded with the purchase and application of the vaccine across the country.

“Nothing was heard from the President to stop it. He did not check any periodicals or any doctor’s advise against it. Brazil only used it on a small scale, Singapore and Malaysia, just for private use, but here in the Philippines, he allowed public use and mass inoculation,” the report stated.

The report also cited DOH assistant secretary Lyndon Lee Suy for perjury when he told the committee that he was not involved in the anti-dengue vaccination program. It turned out he was head of the immunization program under Garin.

The committee also recommended the filing of a case against Dengvaxia manufacturer Sanofi Pasteur for violations of the Civil Code on Quasi-delicts, “for having sold a defective product, endangering, hurting and maybe even killing children who were injected with Dengvaxia.”

Asked about the possible liability of Garin’s successor Paulyn Ubial, who continued the vaccination program under her watch, Gordon said he decided not to include her because she was not involved in the planning of the purchase of Dengvaxia.

Aquino unfazed

In a statement, Aquino’s spokesperson Abigail Valte said the former chief executive “has always demonstrated his readiness to answer questions about his decisions as president.”

“His consistent participation in legislative investigations and other venues show this. He will continue to face whatever additional complaints are filed in connection with this matter,” Valte said.

Aquino had repeatedly explained that all processes were followed before he gave the signal to go ahead with the vaccination.

The former president said savings were used to fund the program meant to save people from the deadly disease afflicting thousands each year.

Aquino had provided a timeline and figures showing the rapid spread of dengue to explain why he approved the program.

He also emphasized his not making secret his meetings with Sanofi Pasteur abroad, which were all announced as part of his schedule as president.  –  With Paolo Romero, Emmanuel Tupas, Jess Diaz

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