'Actions guided by prudence': Abad defends release of Dengvaxia billions

Patrick Quintos, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Feb 26 2018 12:47 PM | Updated as of Oct 12 2018 11:17 AM

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MANILA - Former Budget Secretary Florencio "Butch" Abad said his agency acted in prudence when they released funds used by the Department of Health to purchase P3.5 billion in dengue vaccines from Sanofi Pasteur.

Abad said it was the DOH, then headed by Secretary Janette Garin, that requested for the funds based on research and data available at that time.

"Our actions were guided by prudence because there was this alarming problem and there was this potential cure to it," he told lawmakers during a House probe Monday.

"We had to defer to them because, as far as we're concerned in the bureaucracy, they are the experts in this area," the former budget chief added.

Had they known the facts that are known today, Abad believes the DOH would have approached the matter differently, as they only made the recommendation based on given data.

Abad said a little over P11 billion of funds from savings were released to the DOH in 2015, upon approval by then President Benigno Aquino III.

Part of the fund was used for the construction of rural health units, he said. But the P3.5 billion went to the purchase of Dengvaxia, which is now hounded by controversy.

Dengvaxia-maker Sanofi Pasteur admitted that the vaccine could cause severe dengue symptoms to those who have not had dengue before, sparking a public scare in the Philippines.

But Garin defended the procurement of Dengvaxia as dengue cases in the country, looking at the morbidity and mortality rate, reached alarming levels in 2015.

"By 2015, the Philippines had the highest dengue outbreaks in the region with 140,000 cases," said Garin, adding that a World Health Organization report shows Dengvaxia's benefits outweigh the risks.