GRAFT and other criminal charges were formally filed on Monday before the Department of Justice (DOJ) against former President Benigno S. Aquino III, his budget and health secretaries and several former and incumbent health officials, among others, who were believed to be responsible for the bungled P3.5-billion anti-dengue vaccine program of the government.
Also named as respondents in the complaint were the officials and employees of pharmaceutical company Zuellig, which supplied the controversial Dengvaxia vaccine and Sanofi Pasteur, manufacturer of the vaccine.
The case stemmed from the controversial advisory issued by Sanofi, saying new clinical analysis has found the Dengvaxia vaccine is effective for people who have had dengue prior to immunization, but citing a risk of a “severe” case of dengue for people who have not.
Over 830,000 children—aged 9 and above—from public schools in Metro Manila, Central Luzon, Calabarzon and Cebu were reportedly vaccinated with Dengvaxia since it was launched in April 2016.
This prompted the Department of Health (DOH) to suspend its dengue-immunization program last December 1.
The complaint against Aquino and the other respondents was filed by the Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption (VACC) represented by lawyer Manuelito Luna; Vanguard of the Philippine Constitution through its president, lawyer Eligio Mallari; and Dr. Francisco Cruz and lawyer Nasser Marohomsalic.
In their 17-page complaint, the groups specifically accused of violation Section 3(e) of Republic Act (RA) 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 RA 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.
Besides Aquino, the other former top officials of the government named in the complaint were former Budget Secretary Florencio B. Abad, former Health Secretary Janette L. Garin; health undersecretaries Dr. Carol Tanio, Gerardo Bayugo, Lilibeth David, Mario Villaverde; assistant secretaries Lyndon Lee Suy and Nestor Santiago; 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 head executive assistant to Garin.
The groups said they filed the complaint based on the testimonies of the resource 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) in conjuction with other concerned committees which substantiated their claim that the respondents were “directly and proximately” responsible for the Dengvaxia vaccine mess.
They said Aquino and the other respondents should be held responsible for “ill-advisedly, thoughtlessly and imprudently” implementing the anti-dengue vaccination program.
The complaint alleged that Aquino and his fellow respondents “anomalously and illegally funded and procured the Dengvaxia vaccine and used 830,000 schoolchildren as “guinea pigs” just to bolster the candidacy of Liberal Party presidential bet Manuel A. Roxas II as well as the other candidates of the party.
“Bluntly, the respondents had failed to comply with World Health Organization (WHO) standards on the licensing and post-licensing monitoring of Dengvaxia, as well as failed to promptly disclose any adverse events associated with the mass vaccination, contrary to law and existing regulations,” the complaint read.
They 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.
“Clearly, the deaths and dengue shock or adverse events noted [that] 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.