FORMER budget secretary Florencio Abad may be charged with technical malversation for realigning P3.5 billion from government savings to buy dengue vaccines without Congress’ approval.
Sen. Joseph Victor Ejercito made the pronouncement on Saturday when asked about the liability of government officials during the Aquino administration in the controversies surrounding the Dengvaxia vaccine deal with Sanofi Pasteur.
The senator also said former president Benigno Aquino 3rd could be liable for the vaccine mess under the principle of command responsibility.
“But there is apparently a doctrine which says that if you were the last to sign, as a ministerial act, you can be acquitted,” Ejercito said.
Abad admitted on Thursday, during the resumption of the Senate investigation on the vaccine scandal, that the funds used to purchase Dengvaxia in December 2015 came from government savings and not from the 2015 General Appropriations Act.
Aquino explained that he approved the release of the fund, through former executive secretary Paquito Ochoa, because they had no more time to ask Congress to determine funding sources.
“We know that secretary Abad had a record with the (so-called) DAP (Disbursement Acceleration Program) which the Supreme Court declared illegal,” said Ejercito, chairman of the Senate Committee on Health.
He conducted the probe jointly with Sen. Richard Gordon, chairman of the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee.
Both of them agreed that the procurement of P3.5 billion Dengvaxia vaccines was done “in haste.”
“The Supreme Court said that their action to re-align savings without congressional approval was unconstitutional,” Ejercito said in a radio interview,
“I think this will fall under technical malversation because Secretary Abad knew that any government expenditure, especially P3.5 billion in this magnitude, requires congressional approval,” he said.
The senator rejected Abad’s claim that realigning savings from the Miscellaneous Personnel Benefit Fund (MPBF) was a “regular practice” and the president has the “discretion” to use it.
“I don’t buy that excuse from Secretary Abad that this is usual practice and it is the prerogative of the president to realign savings at the end of the year,” Ejercito said.
He explained, “That amount was huge and I think there was no emergency that time (to buy dengue vaccine). Even President Aquino said that they wanted it before election season.”
The Department of Budget and Management Special Allotment Release Order was issued on December 29, 2015 or five months before the 2016 national elections.
“So, I think based on the statement of the Formulary Executive Council and FDA (Food and Drug Administration), it was done in haste. The procurement of Dengvaxia was done with unprecedented speed,” he added.
Asked whether Aquino is not yet off the hook from the vaccine scandal, Ejercito said, “If we talk about command responsibility, I think President Aquino has a liability.”
“I think he did it on good faith. Any president for that matter, because they also attend to other problems of the country, they are very dependent on the information given to them by their department secretaries,” he said.
Ejercito noted, “I think some vital information was withheld from him (Aquino) in order to push through with the transaction.”