MANILA - Former Health Secretary Janette Garin defended Wednesday the exemption they sought from the Formulary Executive Council for the procurement of P3.5 billion worth of dengue vaccines.
During the House probe on the alleged irregular procurement of dengue vaccines on Wednesday, Garin said the exemption was needed due to the backlogs in pending applications with the FEC.
The council, which is composed of experts in medicine, pharmacology, and toxicology among others, decides whether or not a certain drug should be placed in the Philippine National Drug Formulary.
The usual processing time for product registration is within 254 days. But for the dengue vaccines, it only took them 7 months, from May 2015 to December 2015.
Representatives Estrellita Suansing of Nueva Ecija and Doy Leachon of Oriental Mindoro questioned what appeared to them as a hasty approval of the procurement of dengue vaccines.
But Dr. Julius Lecciones, Executive Director of the Philippine Children's Medical Center (PCMC), one of the hospitals tasked to implement the program, sees nothing irregular with the procurement.
"Kung sasabihing mabilis, ito ay in reaction to what? Sa procurement law, 28 days. This particular [procurement] is 45 days. Procurement from 2012 to 2016, ang aming average is 51 days in the hospital. This ranges from 21-89 days," he said.
"'Yung mabilis na 1 month naming nagagawa nag-o-occur sa first semester. Kung iko-compare ko 'to sa track record ng PCMC in the last 5 years, everything is in order. Minadali namin? Hindi," he added.
The FEC also clarified before the Committee on Good Government and Public Accountability that there was no list of priority projects back in 2016.
During the hearing, Rep. Leachon also questioned the Health Department's procurement of vaccines with Sanofi when the French drug-maker already faced fraud issues abroad.
"I cannot comment on the specific nature of cases anywhere else in the world. Without knowing the details of the allegations, I apologize," Gerard Palez, representative of Sanofi, responded.
The DOH said they were not informed of any convictions of Sanofi before and after the procurement. Garin said Leachon's source on Sanofi's case was an anti-vaccine magazine.
Rep. Leachon asked why the health department allotted P3.5 billion for dengue vaccines, leaving only around P3.2 billion for other immunization programs.
He noted that P1.4-billion worth of these dengue vaccines are still at the cold storage of the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine, and are nearing expiration due to the controversy.
"Bakit P3 billion? E sabi ni [Health] Sec. [Paulyn] Ubial mas mataas ang rate ng pneumonia?," asked Leachon.
Garin said the Department of Budget Management not only approved the budget for the dengue vaccines, but for other vaccines as well.
"Unfortunately, on the last request, hindi kami nakasubmit ng one requirement for JE, and for the pneumonia vaccine, the company cannot commit a definitive price," Garin told the committee.
"But it's precise for me to say that the DBM still allowed a budget of P1.5 billion for the pneumonia vaccine," she told the committee.
Leachon also noted that the vaccines have been purchased months before the election.
But Garin denied allegations that the procurement was related to May 2016 elections, noting that the DOH already had plans to roll out a nationwide dengue vaccination program back in 2014.