By Javier J Ismael/Manila Times
Senator Richard Gordon yesterday expressed disappointment over the non-inclusion of former president Benigno Aquino and former Budget secretary Florencio Abad in the list of persons indicted for reckless imprudence resulting in homicide over deaths allegedly linked to the anti-dengue vaccine Dengvaxia.
Gordon, chairman of the Senate Blue Ribbon committee, said Aquino and Abad, along with former Health secretary Janet Garin, should be held criminally liable for the mess.
“Former president Aquino is responsible because he caused the purchase of Dengvaxia and in the process caused irreversible damage, possibly death to children, and anxiety, sleepless nights, unnecessary expense on the part of the parents and guardians,” he said.
“The greatest sin and transgression of Aquino was to put the lives of Filipino children in grave peril. He simply did not care. He’s insensitive and lacks compassion,” Gordon added.
A blue ribbon committee report submitted earlier by Gordon recommended the indictment of Aquino for violation of Republic Act (RA) 3019 or the “Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act,” as well as RA 6713 or the “Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees.”
Gordon said Aquino’s two meetings with officials of vaccine manufacturer Sanofi Pasteur violated RA 6713.
“President Aquino is guilty of malfeasance, misfeasance, and nonfeasance. From the time he inappropriately met with Sanofi in Beijing on November 9 2014, and once again a year later in December 1, 2015,” the report said.
Gordon said that by meeting with mere senior vice presidents of Sanofi Pasteur, Aquino was sending a strong message of perception that he was dispensing undue patronage.
Gordon said Abad committed technical malversation for releasing funds for a programme that was not in the national budget. “Malacanang should take a second look at it, I hope the DoJ (Department of Justice) secretary is listening and he will take a second look at it, because as far as I am concerned ‘they did not look at the procurement aspect and the most reckless was that they gave the drugs even if they were not sure that it will work,” Gordon emphasised.
In a statement on the indictment prepared by the office of Justice Undersecretary Mark Perete, DoJ spokesman, stated that the Justice department has indicted Garin and four others of reckless imprudence resulting in homicide over deaths allegedly caused by controversial anti-dengue vaccine Dengvaxia.
The statement made no mention about Aquino and Abad.
Malacanang on Saturday welcomed the indictment of Garin and several others over the alleged deaths of eight children who received the government’s anti-dengue vaccine Dengvaxia.
“The wheels of justice have began to grind for the victims and families of children who died allegedly because of the Dengvaxia vaccine with the Department of Justice finding probable cause to charge former officials responsible for the failed immunisation programme initiated during their time,” Palace spokesman Salvador Panelo said in a statement.
“We hope that true justice and peace will be attained as this is the only way we can deliver proper closure to the victims of the vaccination initiative and their families,” he added.
Panelo, however, appealed to the public to stop politicising the Dengvaxia controversy because it discredited other health programmes of the government and brought about undesirable results.
“Now that the legal process has taken its course, we wish everyone would finally stop politicising the issue in the court of public opinion, noting that such exercise has only caused an unnecessary fear on the part of parents for good and creditworthy health programmes of the government to the detriment of innocent children,” he said.
The Palace official also assured the public that the executive branch would not interfere with the court cases that Garin and her co-accused would face.
“As for the defendants, they should welcome this latest development as an opportunity to clear their names and raise whatever defence they have in relation to the matter before a court of law,” Panelo said.
“As always, we will not interfere in the proceedings, save for the DoJ, which is mandated by law to prosecute accused felons,” he added.
The Justice department has said there were enough grounds to indict Garin, nine officials from the Department of Health (DoH), two officials of the Food and Drug Administration, two officials of the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine, and six from Dengvaxia manufacturer Sanofi Pasteur.
State prosecutors, however, dismissed the same complaint against incumbent Health chief Francisco Duque 3rd, former DoH officer in charge Herminigildo Valle, two Sanofi Pasteur officials and 15 Zuellig Pharma officers. Garin and the other respondents were found to have “exhibited ‘inexcusable lack of precaution and foresight’ when they facilitated, with undue haste, ‘the registration and purchase of Dengvaxia’ and used the vaccine in implementing a school-based dengue mass immunisation programme,” according to the statement.
“The Panel found sufficient evidence that Garin and the other respondents circumvented various regulations in the purchase of P3.5bn worth of Dengvaxia vaccine which constituted proof of their reckless imprudence,” it added.
Garin earlier said in her counter-affidavit that the available data and information on Dengvaxia at the time the vaccines were purchased all pointed to its safety and efficacy.
If convicted, Garin and the other respondents face up to six years in prison for each of the accusations. Responding to the DoJ’s findings, Garin said, “I believe the criminal case is very weak because there is absolutely no evidence linking the vaccine to the deaths.We are confident in the dismissal of this case.”
“It is only the Philippines that has politicised the issue,” Garin said in a statement.
The government stopped its nationwide dengue vaccination programme and pulled Dengvaxia off the market in late 2017 after Sanofi warned that the vaccine might cause severe symptoms if given to those who did not have prior exposure to the mosquito-borne disease. Sanofi maintained no death was confirmed to have been caused by Dengvaxia.
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