House recommends raps vs. Aquino, others over Dengvaxia mess

MANILA — The House committees on good government and public accountability and health on Wednesday recommended the filing of criminal and civil charges against several former government officials, including former president Benigno Aquino III, over the controversial dengue vaccination program of the Department of Health (DOH).

According to the joint committee report, Aquino, former Budget Secretary Florencio “Butch” Abad, former Health secretary Janette Garin and the other health officials were found in violation of Republic Act 3019 or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act.

They allegedly colluded “to ensure that a large quantity of Dengvaxia vaccines would be purchased by the government for administration to school children in the National Capital Region (NCR) and in Regions 3 (Central Luzon) and 4-A (Calabarzon).”

“This was done even though the safety and efficacy of Dengvaxia had not been clearly established. These officials provided shortcuts in the process to favor Sanofi Pasteur, the manufacturer of a commercially available dengue vaccine,” the report said.

In particular, Aquino was charged for approving the use of about PHP3.5 billion from the 2015 Miscellaneous Personnel Benefits Fund savings for the purchase of the Dengvaxia vaccine.

Meanwhile, Abad was charged for requesting authority to use savings and for the issuance of the Special Allotment Release Order for the release of funds for the procurement of dengue vaccines.

On the other hand, the joint panel found Garin liable for including Dengvaxia among the vaccines proposed to be procured out of savings, despite the fact a Certificate of Product Registration (CPR) was not yet issued for the dengue vaccine and such was not included in Philippine National Drug Formulary.

She was also liable for requesting the President’s permission to use savings for the purchase of dengue vaccines, issuing the exemption of Dengvaxia from Executive Order No. 49, and approving the procurement of dengue vaccines for the dengue immunization program.

The joint House panel also recommended the filing of technical malversation charges against Aquino, Abad, Garin, and Philippine Children’s Medical Center (PCMC) executive director Julius Lecciones.

The committee report noted that the 2015 General Appropriations Act (GAA) did not appropriate funds for the acquisition of the dengue vaccine in the budget of the DOH.

The dengue vaccine was also not included in the DOH’s Expanded Immunization Program for 2015.

The DOH, or its agencies, was not authorized to procure a dengue vaccine in 2015, the report pointed out.

Despite this, the House panels pointed out that Aquino approved Garin’s request for the use of “savings” for the acquisition of the dengue vaccine.

“Savings cannot be used to fund procurements that have for which no appropriations have been made in the GAA. The use of “savings” from appropriations for other projects or procurements for a procurement for which there has been no appropriation from Congress falls within the offense punished under Article 220 of the Revised Penal Code,” the report said.

Article 220 provides that “Any public officer who shall apply any public fund or property under his administration to any public use other than for which such fund or property were appropriated by law or ordinance shall suffer the penalty of prision correccional in its minimum period or a fine ranging from one-half to the total of the sum misapplied, if by reason of such misapplication, any damages or embarrassment shall have resulted to the public service. In either case, the offender shall also suffer the penalty of temporary special disqualification.”

The joint House panel added that the acts allegedly committed by former officials named in the committee report also constitute grave misconduct for which they may also be held administratively liable.

It also recommended for PCMC to file a “civil action” against Zuellig Pharma Corporation, Aquino, Abad, Garin and Lecciones for the recovery of the amount paid by PCMC to Zuellig Pharma Corp. for the procurement of the Dengvaxia vaccine, less whatever amount or amounts which may have already been refunded.

It also recommended that the Anti-Money Laundering Council “take appropriate action to investigate the personalities involved in the procurement of the dengue vaccines, and their deposit and investment accounts, including related accounts.” PNA –