THE chairman of the House committee on good government and public accountability said yesterday the officials responsible for the dengue vaccine mess could face graft charges.
“The hustled purchase of P3.5-billion worth of Dengvaxia shots in 2015 may be considered highly detrimental to the government,” said Surigao del Sur Rep. Johnny Pimentel, the panel chairman.
Under the law, Pimentel said entering into any contract or transaction that is deemed “manifestly and grossly disadvantageous” to the government constitutes a corrupt and unlawful practice.
“Officials found liable may be penalized with up to 15 years in prison, plus perpetual disqualification from public office,” said Pimentel, referring to the provisions of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act.
Pimentel likened the purchase of Dengvaxia boosters to buying an automobile that turns out to be a lemon – a product that is unsatisfactory and defective.
Meanwhile, Pimentel urged Dengvaxia’s manufacturer, Sanofi Pasteur, to promptly return the P3.5-billion that the Philippine government, through the Department of Health (DoH), paid for the anti-dengue shots.
“This is the right thing for Sanofi to do. The sooner they give us back the money, the better,” Pimentel said.
The lawmaker also urged Sanofi Pasteur to establish an indemnity fund, as proposed by Health Secretary Francisco Duque, to pay for the future hospitalization and treatment of Filipino school children who may be rendered sick after receiving Dengvaxia shots.
Sanofi Pasteur recently released the negative findings of its long-term follow-up study of Dengvaxia, the world’s first-ever licensed anti-dengue vaccine.
The study showed that “people who never had dengue but who were given the shots had an increased risk of a severe case and hospitalization from the third year after immunization.”
PNoy, ex-officials liable?
Sen. JV Ejercito yesterday said former President Benigno Aquino III may be held liable for failure to observe proper command responsibility over the P3.5-billion procurement of the Dengvaxia vaccine.
Likewise, ex-Health secretary Janette Garin and former Budget secretary Florencio Abad may be charged with technical malversation for their involvement in the purchase of the vaccines.
“Sa tingin ko, kung titignan mo ‘yong command responsibility, baka may liability siya. Maybe negligence lang dahil kinakailangan niyan, due diligence,” Ejercito said in a radio interview over dzBB.
“Kumbaga, ang mas mabigat na may sala ay iyong mga underlings, iyong mga secretaries dahil sila dapat ang nagsagawa ng due diligence,” he added.
The senator pointed out that the amount used for the vaccination program was not part of the General Appropriations Act for 2015.
It was also revealed in the joint hearing of the Senate blue ribbon and health committees last Thursday that the funding for the vaccination program was sourced from the Miscellaneous Personnel Benefits Fund (MPBF) and Pension Gratuity Fund (PGF) savings.
“Hindi ako abogado pero sa aking pagkakaalam, ang lahat ng dapat pagkakagastusan o lahat ng programa ng ating pamahalaan, dapat merong appropriations na galing sa Kongreso. At dito, malinaw na malinaw na wala ang purchase of dengue vaccine,” Ejercito said.
“Pero sa akin, kahit saan mo tingnan, ‘yan ay technical malversation kasi nga walang approval ng Kongreso, walang appropriations ang pagbili ng P3.5-billion worth of dengue vaccine,” he noted.