Two House committees that investigated the Dengvaxia fiasco on Wednesday recommended the filing of criminal, civil and administrative charges against former President Benigno S. Aquino III and two of his Cabinet members in connection with P3.5-billion purchase of some 3 million doses of the anti-dengue vaccine in 2015.
The vaccine, that was only on Phase IV of its clinical trial at the time, was later found by its maker, Sanofi Pasteur, to exacerbate dengue symptoms that may cause death if administered to those who have not yet been afflicted by the disease.
The House committee on good government and public accountability, chaired by Camiguin Rep. Xavier Jesus Romualdo and House committee on health, led by Quezon Rep. Helen Tan, voted 14-4 to approve the measure after the joint panel earlier reopened its probe into the case. The House, in plenary session, was scheduled to approve the committee report Wednesday.
Surigao del Sur Rep. Johnny Pimentel, then chairman of the House committee on good government and public accountability, also recommended the filing of administrative, civil and criminal liability charges against Aquino and others involved in the allegedly irregular procurement of P3.5 billion worth of the Dengvaxia.
The committees also recommended the filing of graft, technical malversation, and civil cases against
Aquino, former Budget Secretary Florencio Abad, and the Health secretary at the time, Janette Garin, for the alleged unauthorized use of government savings for the purchase of Dengvaxia vaccines.
“These officials may, therefore, be held liable for, conspiring and confederating with one another for the purpose of giving any private party any unwarranted benefits, advantage or preference in the discharge of his official administrative or judicial functions through manifest partiality, evident bad faith or gross inexcusable negligence under...the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act,” the report said.
Also recommended to face graft are doctors Maria Joyce Ducusin, Julius Lecciones, and Kenneth Hartigan-Go.
Named to face technical malversation was Lecciones since Aquino approved Garin’s request for the use of “savings” for the acquisition of the dengue vaccines despite the absence of appropriate funds under the 2015 General Appropriations Act.
“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.
The report also “recommended that the PCMC file a civil action against Zuellig Pharma Corp., former 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.”
The report also said that “the acts described above also constitute grave misconduct for which the public officials concerned may also be held administratively liable. While some of them are not in government at present, administrative cases may still be filed against them.”
The report also recommended that the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) “take appropriate action to investigate the personalities involved in the procurement of the dengue vaccines, and their deposit and investment accounts, including related accounts, in view of the fact that Section 3(e) of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act is among the unlawful activities under the AMLA (Anti-Money Laundering Act).”
Dengvaxia was distributed to around 800,000 public school students in three regions during the Department of Health’s anti-dengue immunization program in April 2016.
Investigation revealed that the DOH allocated P3.5 billion for the procurement of the Dengvaxia vaccines, which have been administered to children in Central Luzon, Metro Manila and Calabarzon (Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, Rizal, and Quezon). Records indicate that slightly less than 10 percent of children administered with Dengvaxia, or about 73,000, have not had dengue yet.
In November 2017, Sanofi admitted that the vaccine could worsen symptoms for “seronegative” children or those who have never contracted dengue but were given Dengvaxia shots anyway.
By this time, nearly 900,000 Filipino schoolchildren had been vaccinated under the anti-dengue program.
The ensuing panic prompted the DOH to suspend its immunization program in December 2017.
The DoH has been conducting clinical studies on the cause of deaths of some children who were administered with the vaccine.
Publications on the clinical trial of new medicines show that new drugs on Phase IV trial are usually not mass administered as these are still be tested for safety although these have been allowed by country drug regulatory agencies.