AQUINO, OTHERS CHARGED. Former President Benigno Aquino III together with former Budget Secretary Florencio Abad and former Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa take their oath during a Senate hearing on the Dengvaxia vaccine purchase and vaccination. They are facing several charges with others over the vaccines and vaccination.
MANILA – Fresh criminal charges of multiple homicide and injuries aside from other criminal complaints have been filed against former President Aquino, former Budget Secretary Florencio Abad, former Health Secretary Janette Garin and 17 others in connection with the controversial P3.65 billion purchase and use of the anti-dengue vaccine Dengvaxia which has been suspected to have resulted in some deaths among 800,000 children innoculated in a mass immunization drive.
The Vanguard of the Philippines, Inc. (VCPI) and Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption (VACC) filed through their lawyers the criminal complaint before the Department of Justice (DoJ).
Aquino, Abad and Garin had maintained that the purchase of the vaccines was above board.
Earlier, the anti-crime group filed a complaint against Aquino and the other officials for violating the 2016 election ban on government projects when they implemented the Dengvaxia program.
They also filed administrative complaints against incumbent Health officials, alleging they committed gross negligence and grave misconduct in the implementation of the vaccination program.
New Health Secretary Francisco T. Duque III suspended the vaccination program last year after Sanofi Pasteur, the manufacturer of Dengvaxia, admitted that the medicine might cause more severe symptoms on people who have not contracted dengue. Duque also demanded that Sanofi Pasteur refund the remaining P2.5 billion after the company paid about P1.6 billion to the government, but saying that the vaccine is effective, it refused to reimburse the full P3.5 billion.
Meanwhile, the Public Attorney’s Office said some 22 children could have died due to vaccination based on examination made by PAO’s medical experts. A team from University of the Philippines and the Philippine General Hospital, however, insisted that there still no sufficient evidence that the children died of the vaccination.
In the complaint, the groups stated: “Since correlation between vaccine (Dengvaxia) and deaths had been established prima facie, respondents Aquino III, Abad, Garin “and the other respondents (concerned DoH officials, past and present) should stand trial for criminal negligence under Article 365 of the RPC (Revised Penal Code)… The respondents should be charged with multiple homicide and physical injuries through criminal negligence.”
The VACC represented by lawyer Manuelito Luna; VCPI through its president, lawyer Eligio Mallari; and lawyer Nasser Marohomsalic personally filed the complaint which accused the Aquino and the other individuals for violation Section 3(e) of Republic Act 3019 which prohibits a public officer from giving a private party unwarranted benefits in the discharge of his administrative or judicial functions; Section 65(3) of Republic Act N0. 9184 or the Government Procurement Reform Act (GPRA); and Article 220 (technical malversation) of the Revised Penal Code (RPC); and Article 365 (criminal negligence) of the RPC.
Dr. Franciso Cruz, who earlier testified in the Senate blue ribbon committee hearing on the controversy, also joined the VACC and VPCI as a co-complainant.
Aside from Aquino, Abad and Garin, also named respondents were Health Undersecretaries Dr. Carol Tanio, Gerardo Bayugo, Lilibeth David and Mario Villaverde; Assistant Secretaries Lyndon Lee Suy and Nestor Santiago; Department of Health (DOH) Financial Management Service director Laureano Cruz; DoH directors Dr. Joyce Ducusin, Dr. May Wynn Belo, Dr. Leonila Gorgolon, Dr. Rio Magpantay, Dr. Ariel Valencia and Dr. Julius Lecciones; retired DoH Undersecretaries Dr. Nemesio Gako, Dr. Vicente Belizario, Jr., Dr. Kenneth Hartigan-Go; and Dr. Yolanda Oliveros who served as Garin’s head executive assistant.
Also named as respondents in the complaint were the officials and employees of pharmaceutical company Zuellig Pasteur, which supplied the controversial Dengvaxia vaccine and Sanofi Pasteur, which manufactured the vaccine. The complaint listed the chronology of events that showed the complicity of those accused in the criminal charges alleged against them:
* On December 2, 2015 – Former President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino went to Paris for a Convention on Climate Change and met with Sanofi;
* December 22, 2015 – the FDA approved the Dengvaxia vaccine which is Rx-based. (The product cannot be used in mass vaccination which may expose children to adverse effects.);
* January 17, 2016 – In the fist FEC meeting, Dr. Hilton Lam defended the economic study of the dengue immunization program;
* January 21, 2016 – Dr. Julius Lecciones, Executive Director of PCMC, signed the purchase request for 2 million doses despite the absence of this drug in the Philippine National Drug Formulary (PNDF) that qualifies a drug to be used and supported by huge government funds – (Usually, it will take 1 year or 1-1/2 year years to include a drug in the PNDF;
* January 25, 2016 – Former Usec. Kenneth Hartigan-Go made a pronouncement as quoted, that , “Political decision to allot budget from the government was ready made and you rule here that it is based on technical aspect. You need to follow this”;
* January 27, 2016 – In the second meeting of the FEC, Drs. Cleotilde How, Cecilia Maramba-Lazarte, Cecilia Jimeno and the other members of the Council questioned the cost effectiveness study of Dr. Hilto Lam;
* February 1, 2016 – the FEC approved the exemption of Dengvaxia as mentioned by Dr. Antonio Dan, but was not accomplished;
* February 3, 2016 – the FEC consulted everybody who are ready to launch the Program;
* March 9, 2016 – Dr. Lecciones signed the purchase order for 3 million doses;
* March 27, 2016 – Health advocates led by Dr. Dans and many scientists have gone to former Secretary Garin to alert the public on the public safety and the ADE phenomenon;
* March 31, 2016 – a WHO representative expressed his support for the DOH program;
* April 4, 2016 – the DOH commenced the dengue vaccination program to Grade 4 pupils in NCR, Calabarzon and Central Luzon;
* April 12 to 14, 2016 – the guidelines for the Dengvaxia vaccine was sent out;
* April 25, 2016 – The first death was recorded;
* May 9, 2016 – The program was hastened due to the scheduled National and Local Elections on the same date; and
* July 21, 2016 – Health Secretary Paulyn Jean Rosell-Ubial invited nine (9) persons to become expert panel including Dr. Anthony Leachon. The expert panel decided to stop the immunization program immediately. But, only the 491,811 pupils who have been immunized for the first dose can continue with the second and third doses.
The VPCI and VACC claimed that procurement of the Dengvaxia was “irrefutably” fast tracked and may have violated the government procurement law.
A total of 830,000 children and 30,000 more, including members of the Philippine National Police (PNP), received doses of the Dengvaxia vaccine, the complaint stated.
“Clearly, the deaths and dengue shock or adverse events noted following (the) inoculation of Dengvaxia are correlated or linked. The causal relationship between (the) vaccine and deaths, dengue shock or adverse events, under the circumstances, could hardly be ignored,” the complaint added.
Moreover, the complainants pointed out that the purchase of the Dengvaxia vaccine was approved by Aquino and Abad even if the program had no allocation in the 2016 national budget.
“They should be held to account for the natural and probable consequences of their acts… Irrefutably, some deaths and dengue shocks are linked to Dengvaxia,” the complaint read.
“Doubtless, the respondents had violated (the antigraft law) by causing undue injury to any party, including the government. For which, they should (be) held to account,” the group argued.
“Undeniably, (they) had caused the procurement of millions of doses of the Dengvaxia vaccine… even if the same has no appropriation cover and does not belong to the same allotment class… In the process, they used innocent children as ‘guinea pigs,’” they added.
“Clearly, the deaths and dengue shock or adverse events noted following (the) inoculation of Dengvaxia are correlated or linked. The causal relationship between (the) vaccine and deaths, dengue shock or adverse events, under the circumstances, could hardly be ignored,” it added.
The groups said they filed the complaint based on the testimonies of the resources persons invited to shed light on the issue by the House committee on health and the Senate committee on accountability of public officers and investigation (blue ribbon) jointly with other concerned committees which substantiated their claim that the respondents were “directly and proximately” responsible for the Dengvaxia vaccine mess.
“Not all respondents here are in Salary Grade 27 and up. There are respondents here, a number of respondents, are in (Salary) Grade 26 and below. So the one with jurisdiction there would be the DoJ. The DoJ has concurrent jurisdiction with the Office of the Ombudsman. It is not an exclusive authority of the Ombudsman but it is shared in so far as their investigative and prosecutorial powers are concerned. This is our rationale,” Luna said when asked why they filed the complaint before the DoJ instead of the Office of the Ombudsman.
Abad said that he still not seen the complaint but if the issues relate to procurement and proper observance of accounting and budgetary rules, he is “confident that insofar as the role played by the DBM, everything was above board and according to rules and laws.”