Plunder, malversation raps filed vs Aquino, aides over Dengvaxia mess

Adrian Ayalin, ABS-CBN News

Posted at May 10 2018 12:48 PM | Updated as of May 10 2018 05:50 PM

Former President Benigno Aquino III, former health secretary Janette Garin, and former budget chief Butch Abad. File/Composite

MANILA (2ND UPDATE) - Former President Benigno Aquino III and several of his former officials are facing another complaint before the Office of the Ombudsman in connection with the suspended P3.5-billion Dengvaxia immunization program. 

Lawyer Ferdinand Topacio filed plunder, malversation, and graft charges against Aquino and several of his former Cabinet members, including former Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa, former Health secretary Janette Garin, and former Budget chief Butch Abad.

Also included in the charges are officials of the Department of Health at the time of the procurement of the dengue vaccines, namely Carolina Vidal-Taiño, Gerardo Bayugo, Lilibeth David Mario Villaverde, Lyndon Lee Suy, Nestor Santiago Jr., Laureano Cruz, Irma Asuncion, Maria Joyce Ducusin, Mar Wynn Bello, Leonita Gorgolon, Rio Magpantay, Ariel Valencia, Dr. Julius Lecciones, Nemesio Gako, Vicente Belizario, Kenneth Hartigan-Go, and Dr. Yolanda Oliveros.

In his complaint, Topacio said there was undue and inexplicable haste in the procurement and mass vaccination, as well as conflict of interest of officials involved in the licensing and procurement of the vaccine.

Aquino's former deputy spokesperson Abigail Valte said the former president "is ready to respond to their unfounded complaints when required to do so."

Aquino and Garin earlier justified the purchase of Dengvaxia because of the rising incidence of dengue cases.

Topacio also said the latest audit report by the Commission on Audit questioned the purchase, which did not follow government procurement rules.

“'Pag tinahi-tahi ninyo lalo na may COA report na may anomalya rito at makikita natin, hindi lang P50 million and much more than that,” Topacio said. 

(When you connect all of these with the COA report, there is an anomaly here and it's not just P50 million. It's much more than that.)

Topacio clarified that he filed the complaint as a private individual to avoid allegations of forum shopping given other Dengvaxia-related complaints.

He, however, said the filing is “sanctioned” by the Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption, whose chief, Boy Evangelista, was also at the Ombudsman. 

The VACC earlier filed charges against the former officials at the Department of Justice. 

The fresh complaint against Aquino is the third to be filed at the Ombudsman, following the plunder complaint filed by former Technical Education and Skills Development Authority chief Augusto Syjuco and graft charges filed by Gabriela party-list. 

The government last year suspended the P3.5-billion nationwide dengue immunization program after French drug maker Sanofi Pasteur admitted that the medicine might cause more severe dengue symptoms on people who have not contracted the mosquito-borne disease. 

The vaccine had been given to about 830,000 children in Metro Manila, Southern Luzon, Central Luzon and Central Visayas.

The complaint included a timeline that showed then President Aquino meeting Sanofi Vice President Jean-Luc Lowinski at the Philippine Embassy in Beijing, China in November 2014.

It also said then Health Secretary Garin met with Sanofi officials in Paris, France on May 14, 2015 to discuss procurement of the vaccine.