By Camille A. Aguinaldo
SENATOR Joseph Victor G. Ejercito on Thursday said only former health secretary Janette P. Loreto Garin and former budget secretary Florencio B. Abad were “primarily liable” over the Dengvaxia controversy.
In a statement, Mr. Ejercito, chair of the Senate committee on health, said former president Benigno S.C. Aquino was merely guilty of negligence but noted that he was also liable based on command responsibility.
“I believe that while former President Aquino III is guilty of negligence for not exercising due diligence, it is his two Cabinet members who should be primarily held liable for the Dengvaxia mess that has endangered the lives of almost 1 million children,” he said.
“The Senate hearings have shown that former Department of Health (DoH) Secretary Janette Garin and former Budget Secretary Florencio Abad are the principal conspirators in the anomalous procurement and questionable implementation of the vaccine,” he added.
The legislative inquiry on the Dengvaxia was presided by both the Senate committees on health and on accountability of public officers and investigations (Blue Ribbon), the latter chaired by Senator Richard J. Gordon.
The draft committee report released by Mr. Gordon last Wednesday tagged Messrs. Aquino and Abad as well as Ms. Garin as primary conspirators who should be investigated for graft.
Mr. Ejercito pointed out that Ms. Garin recommended the procurement of the vaccines despite warnings of experts on the possible dangers.
Mr. Ejercito also pointed out that Mr. Abad allowed the release of the budget for the vaccines without congressional approval, noting the fast procurement process over the vaccines even during the holiday period.
He said Mr. Aquino should have exercised “more prudence and oversight” instead of approving the purchase of the anti-dengue vaccines.
“That is a failure of leadership that should hound his conscience and legacy,” he said.
On the other hand, stalwarts from the Liberal Party, Mr. Aquino’s political party, said the draft committee report was released to “cover up” such issues under the current administration, such as the closure of Boracay, the impeachment against Chief Justice Maria Lourdes P.A. Sereno, and the rising inflation.
“This is simply a smokescreen of the administration to hide the issues hounding its officials,” LP vice-president and former Quezon representative. Lorenzo R. Tañada III said in a statement.
For his part, Senator Paolo Benigno A. Aquino IV, who is also the former president’s cousin, said the draft committee report still needed to be debated in the Senate.
“There (referring to Wednesday’s presscon on the issue) was no discussion that someone profited, no discussion that they knew that these were the effects, and yet they were held liable. I think that’s really a cause for concern,” he told reporters in Quezon City, noting that the press briefing yesterday also did not prove that children died due to the Dengvaxia vaccine.
Ifugao Rep. Teodoro B. Baguilat, Jr. expressed doubts on the fairness of Mr. Gordon’s report as it focused mainly on the previous administration.
“The Dengvaxia vaccine program was not only carried out by the past administration but also the current administration,” he said in a statement.