Rep. Joselito Atienza of Buhay party-list is expected to question former President Benigno Aquino 3rd and former Budget Secretary Florencio Abad when these past government officials testify at a congressional probe of the P3.5-billion anti-dengue Dengvaxia immunization program, which was later found to have adverse effects on children.
“I am counting on Representative Atienza, the senior deputy minority leader and author of [a]resolution enabling the inquiry, to debrief both Aquino and Abad on the previous administration’s questionable purchase of some three million doses or P3.5-billion worth of Dengvaxia vaccines in January 2016,” Rep. Johnny Pimentel of Surigao del Sur, chairman of the House Committee on Good Government and Public Accountability, said in a statement over the weekend.
Atienza earlier said in a news conference that the Aquino administration is to blame for the Dengvaxia debacle since it was hurrying its implementation before then-President Aquino’s term expired in June 2016.
“We will also ask all health officials and experts at the hearing to voluntarily disclose any potential conflicts of interest they may have in this case,” Pimentel said.
Other high ranking officials expected to show up at the congressional inquiry are Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno, Health Secretary Francisco Duque 3rd, Education Secretary Leonor Briones, Interior Officer-in-Charge Eduardo Año, Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre 2nd, Public Attorney’s Office chief Persida Acosta and former Health Secretary Janette Garin.
Representatives of Sanofi S.A., manufacturer of Dengvaxia, and Zuellig Pharma Holdings Pte. Ltd., the distributor of the anti-dengue vaccine, have also been asked to appear at the hearing, along with officials from various divisions, bureaus and services of the Department of Health, Philippine General Hospital, University of the Philippines College of Medicine and the Philippine Children’s Medical Center, among others.
“We will probe if they or any of their family members have or have had any dealings or connections, now or in the past, with either Sanofi or Zuellig, or both, that may be perceived as posing a possible conflict of interest in this case,” Pimentel said.
“The mere perception of a likely conflict of interest may be enough to pollute the remarks of a medical practitioner, regardless of his or her qualifications, testifying on Dengvaxia,” he added.
It was earlier reported that former Health Secretary Esperanza Cabral, who has publicly spoken and written about the Dengvaxia case, also serves on the board of trustees of the Zuellig Family Foundation.
Meanwhile, anti-crime advocates on Sunday deplored efforts of some parties to approach families of Dengvaxia victims, allegedly offering them cash to convince them not to pursue their case.
According to Dante Jimenez, chairman of the Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption (VACC), he had been receiving reports about some individuals talking to parents of children who died or fell ill after being inoculated with Dengvaxia and trying discourage them from seeking the help of the VACC or the Public Attorney’s Office.
Jimenez said members of the VACC Dengvaxia monitoring team have reported that several individuals have been following them when visiting the parents of Dengvaxia victims and then try to talk to them after they left.
“They are talking to the parents and discourage them from seeking help from VACC and PAO,” Jimenez said in an interview.
When asked if he has an idea who could be behind the move, he said he is yet to find out their identities although Jimenez added that it is obvious that they were sent by people who were responsible for the Dengvaxia controversy.
The VACC recently filed graft and corruption-related complaints against Aquino 3rd, Abad and Garin for the procurement of the anti-dengue vaccine and inoculation of almost a million individuals, mostly children.
Also named as respondents were Health Undersecretaries Carol Tanio, Gerardo Bayugo, Lilibeth David and Mario Villaverde; Assistant Secretaries Lyndon Lee Suy and Nestor Santiago; Directors Laureano Cruz, Joyce Dducusin, Mar Wynn Bello, Leonila Gorgolon, Rio Magpantay, Ariel Valencia and Julius Lecciones.
Former Health officials Nemesio Gako, Vicente Belizario Jr., Kenneth Hartigan-Go and Yolanda Oliveros as well as directors and officers or employees of Zuellig and Sanofi Pasteur, the developer of Dengvaxia, were also included in the complaint.
The PAO also on Sunday finished conducting autopsy on the body of 9-year-old girl Wiljen Alcotin who died on January 26, 2018.
She was a resident of Sitio Bugnay, Labangan, Cebu, and was inoculated with Dengvaxia in August 2017.
She was the 26th victim examined by a PAO forensic team.
Sanofi officials announced in November 2017 that they have discovered that the Dengvaxia vaccine does not have the same efficacy on children who are yet to get sick of dengue (seronegative) as opposed to those who already contracted dengue (seropositive).
Without admitting any wrongdoing, Sanofi reimbursed the Health department P1.16 billion for unused doses of Dengvaxia.
WITH REPORT FROM LLANESCA T. PANTI