MANILA - Malacañang on Friday denied it was harassing former President Benigno Aquino III after a group loyal to President Rodrigo Duterte filed an electioneering complaint against him in connection with the controversial dengue vaccination program.
Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said Duterte never spoke ill of Aquino when it came to the issue and has made it clear that he would let the investigation determine the liability of the former chief executive, if any.
“Wala pong nangha-harass sa kaniya, kasi ang posisyon ng Presidente ay hayaan matapos ang imbestigasyon. Pero mabuti rin na humarap siya dahil kung hindi naman siya magsasalita, hindi malalaman ng mga nag-iimbestiga kung ano talaga ang dapat niyang pananagutan,” Roque said in a Facebook interview.
“Kung siya ay hinarass, ni minsan ay hindi nagsalita sa kaniya ang Presidente, laban sa kaniya ang Presidente tungkol sa isyung ito. If at all, sinabi pa nga ni Presidente, I would have probably done the same thing. So sino ang nagha-harass sa kaniya? Not the President. Ang Presidente has always been level-headed. Let the investigation proceed, and we will act after the investigation.”
Aquino on Thursday said it was clear that the complainant, the Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption (VACC), was only out to harass him, as he maintained that his approval of the purchase and administration of dengue vaccine Dengvaxia was not illegal.
Aquino and several of his former cabinet members are facing several cases over the vaccination program after French drug maker Sanofi Pasteur warned that the vaccine could cause more severe dengue symptoms if given to those who had not contracted the mosquito-borne disease.
The former President fired back at the complainants whom he said are just trying to get Duterte’s attention so they could get government appointments.
"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 would 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.
The dengue vaccination program was launched in April 2016, toward the end of Aquino's term and just a month before the presidential elections.
Over 800,000 school children were inoculated under the program.
The Health Department stopped the program after Sanofi Pasteur released its warning.
Aquino, who faced a preliminary probe at the Commission on Elections on Thursday, said the purchase order for the vaccine was made on March 9, 2016 or 16 days before the election ban on disbursing state funds.
"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 rollout 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.