Whatever you may call it – scandal, conspiracy, scam, or deal – the Dengvaxia controversy must be fully investigated until it finds satisfactory closure.
The investigation or inquiry will be best carried out by the Department of Justice (DoJ), in collaboration with the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI). They are in the best position to conduct a thorough and effective inquiry.
For very sound reasons, a DoJ-NBI inquiry into Dengvaxia is infinitely preferable to a congressional inquiry into the matter, as some senators are contemplating.
First, the DoJ and NBI are the agencies of government that are vested with the authority to investigate such matters. They have the professional expertise and experience to do a good job and produce a sound summary report.
Second, a congressional inquiry would only be shadowed by political questions and concerns, because of the composition of the houses of Congress. The political color is inevitable because top officials of the previous presidential administration, including former President Benigno Aquino 3rd, must be investigated for their role or accountability in the controversial deal. Liberal members of the Senate have already moved to rally behind their former leader and colleagues, and seek to direct the probe toward their exculpation from blame.
Third, a professional, impartial and unsparing investigation is imperative because the issue fundamentally involves the safety and welfare of the Filipino public, especially children. The probe must reestablish public confidence in the Department of Health (DoH) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that they can ensure the people’s protection and welfare.
Fourth and finally, the investigation will concern a major French pharmaceutical manufacturer, Sanofi Pasteur, which produces the vaccine and got a whopping P3.5 billion contract from the Aquino government to supply the drug, even while it was still under testing by responsible world health authorities. The country’s ties with foreign countries and international business will also be affected.
The bare and hair-raising aspects of the Dengvaxia controversy are already known to the public and the media:
1. The Dengvaxia alarm was triggered by a statement from Sanofi Pasteur that its immunization vaccine might have “severe” effects on those without a dengue history.
2. The Philippines is the first country on record that contracted and committed to use the vaccine. Our government agreed to a P3.5-billion deal with Sanofi, in spite of the fact that the World Health Organization (WHO) had not yet finished its testing of the vaccine or certified its safety and effectiveness.
3. The DoH massively used Dengvaxia on more than 700,000 public school students in Metro Manila and neighboring provinces in an immunization drive. Vaccination drives were planned for the other regions and were fortunately averted.
4. One or two fatalities have been reported from the ill–considered vaccination drive. More deaths may turn up in the course of the investigation.
5. The highly questionable Dengvaxia deal was negotiated and concluded during the closing months of the Aquino presidency, and implemented on the eve of the May 2016 national elections. It was a “midnight deal” in every sense of the term.
6. Also prime now is the question whether the Philippines was used as a laboratory – and Filipino children turned into guinea pigs – for the supposed dengue cure.
Sanofi’s public relations efforts to salvage the situation have not assuaged public anxiety and convince the people that there is no reason for wide public alarm. The foremost question now is who should be held accountable for the misguided and costly adoption of the vaccine in a nationwide drive. The awful facts seem to point to former President Aquino as the principal culprit, given that he personally met with Sanofi executives, not once but several times, prior to signing the contract.
From him, it became a simple matter of the DoH and the health secretary executing the immunization program upon his orders.
Ferreting out the facts and establishing the chain of responsibility should not be difficult, because this involves
a government program, which is documented every step of the way. The facts will be obfuscated only if there are politicians-legislators looking over the shoulders of the investigators, anxious to ensure that Aquino and their colleagues are shielded from blame.
The less there is of this interference, the better for the Dengvaxia investigation. And the quicker will the probers reach a conclusion and write finis to this sorry affair.