MANILA - (UPDATE) Former President Benigno Aquino III denied Thursday accusations that he violated an election law when the government, under his administration, rolled out a P3.5 billion dengue vaccine program.
Aquino, who faced a preliminary probe at the Commission on Elections, said the purchase order for the French-made Dengvaxia vaccine was made March 9, 2016 or 16 days before the election ban.
"Isa sa mga bintang sa atin ay gumastos daw tayo ng pera na lumalabag sa election ban para paboran ang isang kandidato. Sa Ingles, ang tawag dito 'electioneering,'" he told reporters.
"Ang election ban, nagsimula noong March 25 2016. Ang issuance ng purchase order ng Dengvaxia ay March 9,2016. Ang mga naghain ng reklamo dapat sinuri po ito," he added.
He also justified the rolllout of the vaccine program during the 2016 election season. "'Yung job of protecting the people's health cannot be held in abeyance by the elections," he said.
The dengue vaccination program was launched in April 2016, a month before the presidential elections. They were given to over 800,000 school children.
The Health Department stopped the program after Dengvaxia-maker Sanofi Pasteur said the vaccine might increase the risk of severe dengue in recipients with no previous Dengue infection.
Aquino, former Budget Secretary Florencio Abad and former Health Secretary Janet Garin are facing a complaint filed by the Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption (VACC).
"They used the program under the guise of addressing an emergency but they did not seek any exemption from the Comelec," VACC legal counsel Manuelito Luna previously said.
The former President fired back at the complainants whom he said are just trying to get attention of incumbent President Rodrigo Duterte so they can be appointed.
"Ang mga nagreklamo ay tinulungan ng mga abogadong aral sa batas at pumasa ng Bar. Tanong, bakit kaya itinuloy pa ito? Klaro namang harassment lang ang punto," Aquino said.
"Tama marahil ang sinasabi ng iilan na hindi katarungan ang layunin dito, kundi ang magpapansin para ma-appoint yata sa puwesto," he added.
Aquino is confident that the case against them is baseless and will eventually be scrapped.
"Ang reklamo pong ito ay nagmumula sa kathang-isip at maling layunin. Klarong bagsak ito sa lahat ng pamantayan ng batas at ng katotohanan. Klaro rin po na ang nararapat na hantungan ng ganitong reklamo ay ang basurahan," he said.