VACC, witness file complaint vs Aquino over Dengvaxia mess

MANILA, Philippines – The Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption (VACC) and its witness, physician Francis Cruz, lodged a complaint before the Commission on Elections (Comelec) on Friday, February 2, against former president Benigno Aquino III and others over the Dengvaxia mess.

In his affidavit-complaint, Cruz asked the Comelec’s Law Department to investigate whether the launch of the Dengue Immunization Program violated the election code. He accused Aquino of using the funds to campaign for the Liberal Party in 2016.

“No less than Aquino, the leader of the Liberal Party, together with some Department of Health (DOH) officials, took part during the launching of the Dengue Immunization Program of the DOH in order to further the candidacies of his partymates,” Cruz said.

The Omnibus Election Code's Section 216 (o) prohibits the use of public funds for any partisan political activity.

Specifically, provision (v) of the same section prohibits any public official to expend public funds 45 days before a regular election. Election Day in 2016 was on May 9; the DOH launched the program on April 4.

There was also Resolution No. 9981 from the Comelec, signed in August 2015, which said that from March 5, 2016, to May  8, 2016, delivery of public works is prohibited.

The complaint also named as respondents former health secretary Janette Garin, former budget secretary Florencio Abad, and 17 other former and current DOH officials.

“The foregoing chronology of events or history of the program further substantiate the claim that some DOH officials may have conspired with Aquino, Abad, and Garin in the commission of the aforestated election law violations, and, thus, should also be investigated, and if warranted, charged together with them,” the complaint said.

Exemptions

The law, however, provides exemptions such as contract works which have been awarded before the ban. Procurement processes for the mass immunization program started as early as yearend 2015 and the DOH, through the Philippine Children's Medical Center (PCMC), filed the purchase order for Dengvaxia on January 21, 2016.

Other exemptions provided under the law include maintenance for an existing project, payment of wages and fees for work that began before the ban, and emergency work such as response to a calamity.

In his testimony before the Senate, Aquino explained that the rush to buy the Dengvaxia vaccine in early 2016 was so that the government could utilize savings already existing at the time, or else, risk delaying the project because of the budget process. 

“If by December 31, you do not utilize these unutilized funds, it reverts back to national treasury. Then how do you fund? Ask for a supplemental budget which requires new sources of revenue. So we’re talking – this is December – we'll go to Congress and hopefully, with the election ban and everything, Congress will approve it and we can find new source in the first quarter of the year [2016], which I'm sure you know is very, very difficult,” Aquino told the Senate panel then.

He added: “The end result is if you do not do this in this point of time, you are practically saying that the first implementation of this vaccine will be in 2017 because it will be for the next budget cycle, which will be under the new administration. And of course, assuming that there is a learning curve at the begin of new administration, there's no guarantee it will happen in 2017." 

DOH officials

Cruz said he worked for the DOH under then Secretary Paulyn Ubial, and thus had access to documents and had knowledge of what went on inside the department. He submitted these documents to the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), which was tasked to conduct a case buildup on the aspect of procurement, and possibly corruption.

The other DOH officials named as respondents in the complaint are:

“It behooves the Law Department to evaluate this joint complaint-affidavit and to file the formal charges against the respondents as well as to order the conduct of preliminary investigation, coupled with the service of subpoena to the concerned individuals by the fastest means,” Cruz said in his complaint. Rappler.com

 

Lian Buan

Lian Buan covers justice and corruption for Rappler. She is interested in decisions, pleadings, audits, contracts, and other documents that establish a trail. If you have leads, email lian.buan@rappler.com or tweet @lianbuan.

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