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JV backtracks: Aquino liable for Dengvaxia mess

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By Xave Gregorio

Senator JV Ejercito has changed his stance on the liability of former President Noynoy Aquino on the Dengvaxia mess, saying he, along with former Budget Secretary Butch Abad and former Health Secretary Janette Garin should answer for the failed vaccine program.

Ejecito said that while they “respect the former President,” he may still be held liable for the dengue vaccination program, which he said was “negligently and carelessly” implemented.

“Si PNoy kasi, being the last to sign, he must have assumed that due diligence has been done. Kaya lang ignorance is no excuse and siguro sa command responsibility,” Ejercito said Thursday (March 22) in a media briefing.

The senator earlier said Aquino could not be held criminally liable for Dengvaxia, contrary to the opinion of Senate Blue Ribbon committee Dick Gordon.

But now, asked if Aquino will be among the personalities the Senate Blue Ribbon and health committees will recommend cases against, Ejercito said, “We are public officials and we are accountable. So ‘pag ganito na ang usapan, ‘pag pondo ng bayan and health ng 830,000 of our kids are at stake, dapat manaig ang accountability natin to our people.”

The two Senate panels are preparing a committee report on the Dengvaxia mess, which Ejercito said may be released when Congress resumes from their break in May.

Aside from Aquino, the Blue Ribbon and health committees may also recommend charges against Abad and Garin, Ejercito said.

“Si Secretary Abad, he has to answer. Kailangan niyang sagutin lang ‘yung concern ko, ‘yung use of the savings without congressional appropriation. That is already tantamount to technical malversation,” he said.

Around P3.5 billion, sourced from government savings, was earmarked to purchase Dengvaxia. Lawmakers say this is illegal as the law only allows savings to be transferred and used in the same category.

Garin, on the other hand, has to answer for allowing Dengvaxia to be given to over 830,000 students in a mass vaccination program despite warnings from experts.

Dengvaxia manufacturer Sanofi-Pasteur will also be held to account by the Senate panels over its “mental dishonesty,” as it allegedly did not reveal that the vaccine can cause severe dengue among those who have not yet been infected with the disease even if they had knowledge of this prior to their public disclosure in November 2017.

“They have to answer for this. Kinakailangan nilang sagutin. Everybody will be given their day in court,” Ejercito said.

He said the Senate panels’ report will be largely based off the timeline Gordon presented in previous hearings, which detailed how the dengue vaccine was swiftly greenlighted to enter the Philippine market and how funds for its purchase was quickly released.

Aside from the Senate committee’s recommendations against Aquino and some of his former Cabinet officials, the House good government and public accountability committee is also set to recommend that officials from the previous administration to be held liable over the Dengvaxia vaccine.