June 24, 2018, 4:42 am
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House’s turn to grill Aquino on Dengvaxia

FORMER president Benigno Simeon Aquino III is expected to attend the joint hearing today of the House committees on good government and health on his administration’s dengue immunization program, which is being blamed for the deaths of some schoolchildren.

Rep. Johnny Pimentel (PDP-Laban, Surigao del Sur), panel chair, said Aquino will be asked to confirm if he authorized the realignment of funds for the purchase of vaccines worth P3.5 billion from French multinational pharmaceutical company Sanofi Pasteur.

“Did he (former President Aquino) authorize the realignment of funds to buy Dengvaxia? The former President is coming,” said Pimentel in an interview when asked what he expects from the testimony of Aquino before the two committees.

The joint panel earlier granted Rep. Lito Atienza (PL, Buhay) authority to invite the former president to allow him to personally shed light on the vaccines’ purchase and the subsequent implementation of the program.

Lawyer Abigail Valte, spokesman of Aquino, said the former president’s camp expects the hearing to be fair. 

“As should be expected by any citizen from our institutions, we certainly hope that tomorrow’s (Monday’s) hearing will be an avenue to elevate public discourse on this important issue. Fairness in these proceedings should always be the rule regardless of the stature of the resource persons invited, and not the exception,” Valte said.

The invitation was received by the Aquino camp last Tuesday.

Aquino, former budget secretary Florencio Abad, who was also invited to attend the hearing, and former executive secretary Paquito Ochoa Jr. earlier faced a Senate hearing and defended their decision to implement the program.

Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III, Education Secretary Leonor Briones, Interior Secretary Eduardo Año, Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II, Chief Public Attorney Persida Acosta and former Health Secretary Janette Garin have also been invited to the hearing.

Representatives of Sanofi and Zuellig Pharma Holdings Pte. Ltd., the manufacturer and local distributor, respectively, of the dengue vaccine, were also called along with officials from various divisions, bureaus and services of the Department of Health (DOH), Philippine General Hospital (PGH), University of the Philippines College of Medicine and the Philippine Children’s Medical Center (PCMC).

Atienza wanted to know straight from Aquino where the money to fund the controversial vaccination program was sourced and who authorized its release.

More importantly, he said the investigation should be able to pinpoint who authorized the release of the funds since they were not included in the General Appropriations Act (GAA) of 2016 or the annual national budget approved by Congress.

Aquino earlier told the Senate hearing that early in his term, it was Ona who first introduced the dengue vaccine to him when it was still being developed.

It was during Garin’s time as health secretary that the immunization program was launched. It was continued by Paulyn Ubial when the Duterte administration assumed office in 2016.

In November 2017, Sanofi released results of additional analysis showing that the vaccine may be harmful to people who have not been infected previously with dengue. Among the concerns raised is the possibility of contracting more severe cases of dengue if a person is administered the vaccine and later contracts the virus.

The dengue vaccination program was suspended by Duque last November, but more than 830,000 school children from Metro Manila, Calabarzon, Central Luzon and Cebu have already been vaccinated with Dengvaxia. – With Jocelyn Montemayor
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