Whatever its true purpose in conducting its own inquiry into the Dengvaxia scam, the House committee on good government and accountability must justify its slovenly and superficial conduct of the inquiry into such a live and burning issue.
The committee should justify even more the unbelievable decision of its chairman, Rep. Johnny Pimentel of Surigao del Sur, to declare through the media that he was clearing former President Benigno Aquino 3rd of all responsibility and culpability in the P3.5-billion scandal.
The public did not get to see whether Pimentel held a consultation or discussion of the issue with other members of his committee; neither did he notify the other committee involved in the inquiry – the House committee on health. Pimentel seems to have finished the whitewash entirely on his own.
Pimentel explained his decision in this fashion:
“I believe President Aquino was given information on the urgency to buy the vaccines and he acted on it.
“His decision was based on the representation made by former health officials that the Philippines was one of the top 10 countries in the world with high dengue incidence. In fact, we have more than 200,000 cases every year.” This is a total lie, as Times columnist Rigoberto Tiglao disclosed on Wednesday in his column.
Pimentel reasoned that the former officials of the Department of Health (DOH) impressed upon Aquino the need to arrest the rising dengue incidence by procuring the newly developed vaccine Dengvaxia from French pharmaceutical giant Sanofi Pasteur.
“The objective was really good, but something went wrong along the way,” he added.
This ruling by the chairman totally accepted the testimony and self-serving claims of Aquino before the house.
Aquino told the chamber that he authorized the vaccine procurement to protect children from dengue. He claimed that if he had not done so, lawmakers and the public would be asking him a different question: why did you allow children to be exposed to dengue?
Aquino also lamented that the hearings on his administration’s vaccination program were being “politicized.”
He charged that an “unqualified” expert has linked Dengvaxia to the death of 14 children, although a panel of pathologists appointed by the Department of Health (DOH) has concluded that only three could be associated with the vaccination.
To rest the entire inquiry on Aquino’s testimony is absurd, unsatisfactory and a waste of public funds. It leads to suspicions of dealing behind the scenes. The Pimentel committee and the health committee chaired by Quezon Rep. Helen Tan concluded their joint inquiry into the Dengvaxia controversy on Monday after just a day of hearing.
Pimentel told the media that the two panels were already preparing their report. “We will release it on or before March 21, when Congress goes on its Lenten recess,” Pimentel said.
Are Aquino and the Liberal party assisting in writing the report?
Compared with the impeachment hearings conducted by the House justice committee, which took five months and 17 hearings and heard scores of witnesses, including justices of the Supreme Court, the House Dengvaxia hearing was a joke. It was completely out of its depth.
This probe glossed over the illegal appropriation of P3.5 billion in public funds on the purchase of the vaccine. And it practically exculpates many health officials for their suspected involvement in the scam.
Congressman Pimentel should take full responsibility for this sham inquiry and apologize to the nation. Better yet, he should atone by offering to pay for all costs of the hearing from his pocket.
This is not a call for the House to conduct another hearing on Dengvaxia.This is rather a call for the House leadership to immediately replace Pimentel as chairman of the House committee on good government and accountability.
After reviewing congressman Pimentel’s experience and credentials, we are troubled that he was shoehorned into the committee chairmanship without the slightest experience or capability for conducting an investigation.
His entire public service experience consists of being a former provincial administrator and former governor of Surigao del Sur.
Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez has a proclivity to threatening public officials and agencies with dismissal or dissolution. We think he can prove his authority and capability by quickly moving Pimentel out of the accountability committee.