Aquino ‘surprised’ over NBI complaint on Dengvaxia mess

MANILA — Former President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III on Tuesday said he was surprised over the findings of the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) which filed a criminal complaint before the Office of the Ombudsman recommending his indictment for technical malversation under Article 220 of the Revised Penal Code (RPC).

During the course of the probe, Aquino recounted that he only received a subpoena once which summoned him to the NBI on May 25.

“This was the only time we were required to show up. My lawyers were the ones who actually represented me. I was told that my presence was not necessary,” Aquino told reporters on Tuesday after filing his rejoinder at the Department of Justice (DOJ) on the complaint filed against him by Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption (VACC) and Vanguard of the Philippine Constitution, Inc. (VPCI).

The former president is facing charges of multiple homicide and physical injuries through negligence under the Revised Penal Code, malversation of public funds, and violations of Republic Act 3019 (Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act) and RA 9184 (Government Procurement Reform Act) over the deaths of school children inoculated with the controversial Dengvaxia vaccine, which he has already previously denied.

He said his right to due process was violated as the NBI did not get his side or answer during its fact-finding investigation in arriving at such finding.

Tapos ang nangyari, wala nang (What happened was there were no) further communications from them. Kaya nagulat ako nung lumabas sa media (That’s why I was surprised when I learned from the media that the NBI has filed a complaint),” he pointed out.

Aquino stressed that it was important for the NBI during its investigation to inform him what he was actually being accused of.

“Fundamental kasi yung the right of the accused to know the accusation and to face the accusers,” he said.

The former President noted that during the May 25 hearing the NBI did not make clear to his lawyers what the evidence were against him and who filed the complaint before the NBI.

Aquino said they have yet to receive a copy of the findings of the NBI and the complaint it filed connection with the Dengvaxia controversy.

However, Aquino said he is ready to face the charges filed against him as he is confident that they could prove to the court that they have not done anything wrong.

In a letter signed by NBI Director Dante Gierran addressed to Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales, the NBI recommended the conduct of preliminary investigation against Aquino and his co-respondents including former budget secretary Florencio Abad, former health secretary Janette Garin for conniving to introduce the Dengvaxia vaccine in the country by circumventing procurement and other government processes.

The NBI said Aquino, Abad, and Garin should be held liable for technical malversation for conspiring to unlawfully effect the release of savings from the fiscal year 2015 Mutual Benefit Personnel Fund and use the same to augment the anti-dengue immunization program.

Also named respondents in the NBI complaint are health officials Maria Joyce Ducusin, Julius Lecciones, Maria Wilda Silva, Mario Baquilod, and Rosalinda Vianzon.

Aquino earlier submitted his rejoinder to the DOJ and again denied the charges in the complaint filed by VACC and VPCI last February.

He again asked the DOJ panel to dismiss the charges for lack of merit.

Aquino insisted that he cannot be held liable for criminal negligence simply because there is no valid evidence to prove that the deaths were a direct result of the vaccine.

He also reiterated that the procurement process was aboveboard and within the timelines prescribed by RA 9184.

Aquino submitted his rejoinder ahead of the scheduled hearing on Friday when Garin and Abad are expected to submit their respective rejoinders.

Also named as respondents are DOH undersecretaries Carol Tanio, Gerardo Bayugo, Lilibeth David and Mario Villaverde; and assistant secretaries Lyndon Lee Suy and Nestor Santiago; health department’s Financial Management Service director Laureano Cruz; directors Dr. Joyce Ducusin, Dr. May Wynn Belo, Dr. Leonila Gorgolon, Dr. Rio Magpantay, Dr. Ariel Valencia and Dr. Julius Lecciones; retired health undersecretaries Dr. Nemesio Gako, Dr. Vicente Belizario Jr., and Dr. Kenneth Hartigan-Go; and Dr. Yolanda Oliveros, who served as Garin’s head executive assistant.

Other respondents are officials and employees of the pharmaceutical company Zuellig, which supplied the Dengvaxia vaccine; and Sanofi Pasteur, the vaccine manufacturer.

The DOJ panel chaired by Senior Assistant State Prosecutor Rossane Balauag is set to resolve the case after the submission of rejoinders.