By Hannah Torregoza
Despite his pronouncement that he did it in good faith, former President Benigno Aquino III is still not yet off the hook and may still be held liable for technical malversation for approving the P3.5-billion dengue vaccine deal.
In a DZBB interview, Senator Joseph Victor “JV” Ejercito said Aquino and former Secretaries Florencio “Butch” Abad and Janette Garin have a lot to account over the speed of which the Executive approved and procured the Dengvaxia vaccines for the government Expanded Program for Immunization or EPI.
Granted that he signed the deal with Sanofi Pasteur believing it may avert a possible dengue outbreak in the country, Ejercito said the former Chief Executive, as the last person to sign the document, should have informed Congress of the Executive department’s decision to acquire the medicines, given that it was not part of the General Appropriations Act (GAA).
“Nobody knew about their purchase and said that at the end of the year, they only used the savings. I don’t think that anybody from Congress is aware of these transactions or would-be transactions precisely because these are savings,” Ejercito said pointing to the statement of Garin and Abad that the P3.5-billion funds was culled from the Miscellaneous and Personnel Benefits Fund (MPBF).
Ejercito, chair of the Senate committee on health and demography, said that even if the President has the prerogative to realign savings at the end of the year, the fund is “too big an amount” not to be included in the General Appropriations Act (GAA).
“If you look at the amount, I think it’s necessary that lawmakers, the peoples’ representatives to know about it. We are not a rich country, and thus the P3.5 billion is a very huge amount,” he pointed out.
Ejercito said the former chief executive may still have a liability over the Dengvaxia mess, considering he must have done his part in exercising due diligence before signing the deal.
“If you look at the command responsibility, he must have a liability. There is negligence on his part, because it is clear, he must exercise due diligence.
“As the last person to sign, he must not just presume that his underlings were ready with all the paperwork, all the studies. He was the last to sign so he must have made sure his subordinates exercised due diligence (in looking at the effects of Dengvaxia),” he pointed out.
Asked why he believes those signatory to the deal could be held for technical malversation, Ejercito said that under the law, all government programs should be itemized in the national budget and have the approval of Congress.
“And here it was very clear, the purchase of dengue vaccine is not included in the budget. Even though they said they didn’t approve it first because there was no go-signal yet. When they got the go-signal, they decided to purchase,” he said.
“But that to me—whatever angle you try to look at it—is still a case of technical malversation. Precisely because it lacked the approval of Congress, and the P3.5-billion purchase of dengue vaccines is not even part of the appropriations law,” he stressed.
One thing is certain also, that during the hearing on Thursday, Ejercito said the Aquino administration acted with “undue haste” in approving the vaccines devoid of any complete knowledge of the possible repercussions of the vaccines on children.
“One can really see the unprecedented speed by which this transaction was done. The President himself said they have to expedite it precisely because its already election year and they fear it would no longer be implemented by the next administration,” he said.
“So it was really done with undue haste,” he reiterated.