By Rjay Zuriaga Castor
Former Department of Health (DOH) secretary and now Iloilo 1st district Rep. Janette Garin and four other former and incumbent officials are facing graft and malversation charges before the Office of the Ombudsman.
The charges filed are in connection with the allegedly anomalous P3.5-billion Dengvaxia mass vaccination program of the DOH during the Aquino administration.
Four others indicted in the case are DOH supply chain management director Joyce Ducusin, former undersecretary Gerardo Bayugo, former undersecretary Kenneth Hartigan-Go, and former Philippine Children’s Medical Center executive director Julius Lecciones.
In a document filed before the Sandiganbayan on Tuesday, October 24, the Office of the Ombudsman said Garin and four other officials violated Section 3 (e) of Republic Act No. 3019 or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act.
In a statement obtained by Daily Guardian through Garin, the five accused said that they see the case as an opportunity to finally put an end to the longstanding issue that seemed to persistently trouble them.
“There are a lot of risks in advocating vaccine development that we, as doctors and vaccinologists, experience. It is part of the challenges that come with our calling to save lives,” the statement read.
They maintained that they have a “clear conscience” and readiness to face the issue, and are confident that their “sound exercise of discretion, which is backed by hard science, will disprove the allegations in the complaint filed by Atty. Glenn Chiong.”
Chiong, an ex-Biliran congressman, is part of the Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption and Vanguard of the Philippine Constitution, Inc., the entity that filed the complaint before the Department of Justice in February 2018.
“We firmly believe in the principles of justice and due process which our legal system upholds. With this, we fully trust that our innocence will be duly proven and the truth will come out in due time,” they added.
It can be recalled that in July this year, a review panel created by Ombudsman Samuel Martires said “there is probable cause” to charge the five with violation of Section 3 (e) of Republic Act 3019 or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices.
Section 3 (e) of RA 3019 prohibits public officials from giving unwarranted benefit, advantage or preference to a private party or from causing any party, including the government, undue injury.
“Taken altogether, each and every one of them contributed and participated to the realization of common purposes i.e. to introduce, realign the budget, procure and use Dengvaxia vaccines for the mass vaccination of a large number of public school students,” the Ombudsman’s panel resolution read.
“[The Dengvaxia vaccines placed] them at considerable health risks as there were still pending issues on the safety and efficacy of the Dengvaxia vaccines, thereby causing undue injury to the government in billions of public funds,” it added.
The government spent ₱3.5 billion for the purchase of dengue vaccines in 2016 from the French pharmaceutical firm Sanofi Pasteur.
Around 10 percent of over 800,000 students who have not had any prior dengue infection received the vaccine before Sanofi Pasteur announced that Dengvaxia is more risky for people not previously infected by the virus.
The DOH, under Health Secretary Francisco Duque III in December 2017, ordered the temporary suspension of the dengue vaccination program.