FORMER Philippine President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III and former Health Secretary Janette Garin are now facing mass murder and plunder complaints in connection with the government’s purchase of the controversial dengue vaccine, Dengvaxia.
Former Iloilo Rep. Augusto Syjuco Jr. filed the complaints before the Office of the Ombudsman on Friday, December 15.
In his complaint, Syjuco called the Department of Health’s (DOH) mass immunization program under the Aquino administration “illegal, unjust, improper, inefficient, life-threatening and outright unconscionable.”
“I file this complaint for the crimes of mass murder and other related and resultant crimes through reckless imprudence, and negligence, and plunder, and graft and corruption, for and on behalf of 733,000 school children who were inoculated with the deadly vaccine Dengvaxia through apparent recklessness and negligence, and their apparent anxiety to spend P3.5 billion of public funds,” Syjuco said in his complaint.
The former lawmaker accused the Aquino administration of using Filipino children as “guinea pigs.”
Through the mass immunization program, more than 730,000 Filipino children were administered Dengvaxia since its launch in early 2016. The program continued under the current administration of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte.
The DOH, however, suspended the vaccinations earlier this month after the drug manufacturer Sanofi Pasteur released an analysis which found out that “for those not previously infected by dengue virus… in the longer term, more cases of [the] severe disease could occur following vaccination upon a subsequent dengue infection.”
Aquino on Thursday, December 14 defended his administration’s purchase of Dengvaxia, which some critics described as “rushed” procurement.
During the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee hearing on his administration’s mass dengue immunization program, Aquino explained that there was no information on the health risks posed by Dengvaxia.
“I just want to state for the record, what we had then, none of this warning on November 2017,” said the former president.
Aquino also explained that he immediately approved the purchase of the vaccine in December 2015 using the “unutilized” funds for that year, as the savings were set to expire before 2016.
He further noted that the 2016 national budget did not factor in the procurement of the Dengvaxia because the dengue vaccine was not yet included the Philippine National Drug Formulary (PNDF) — which serves as a guidebook of legal medicines — during the budget deliberations.
“The choice is simple. We can implement it at this point in time for the protection – or wait at least a year as minimum and expose our people to a risk that could have been prevented because of this vaccine,” Aquino said.
Aquino was responding to Senator Richard Gordon after the latter took note that the certification and budget release for the procurement of Dengvaxia was immediately approved after the former president’s meeting with Sanofi Pasteur officials on December 1, 2015 in Paris.
“I’m sorry Mr. President, na natapat lang. December 1, nagmeeting kayo sa Paris tapos biglang dumating kagad ito at natanggap kagad ang Saro at narelease yung pera later on (I’m sorry, Mr. President, it was a coincidence. December 1, you met in Paris then the Saro was released and the funds were issued later on),” said Gordon, who also chairs the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee.
The Philippine Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued its certification for Dengvaxia on December 22, 2015.
By December 29 of that year, the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) released the Special Allotment Release Order (SARO) to the Department of Health (DOH) for the procurement of the vaccines, obligating P3.5 billion for the vaccination program.