Congress adjourns, fails to pass P1.16-B budget for Dengvaxia recipients

MANILA, Philippines – The 17th Congress adjourned its 2nd regular session without approving the bill that would provide P1.16 billion for the assistance of Dengvaxia recipients.

The House of Representatives passed  the bill, which President Rodrigo Duterte certified as urgent, on Tuesday night, May 29. It transmitted the bill to the Senate, as rules require budget measures to emanate from the lower chamber.

The Senate, however, failed to pass the measure early Thursday, May 31, as it worked overtime for the passage of the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law, another urgent administration measure. 

The Senate could discuss and approve the bill in July, as Congress is set to resume session on July 23, in time for Duterte's third State of the Nation Address. 

Senate finance chairperson Loren Legarda raised the issue early Thursday morning, after the chamber passed the BBL on final reading.

But due to lack of quorum, Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon motioned that the session be adjourned.

"The rule is, we should have a quorum to discuss, take up any business. We're here but unfortunately there are not enough of our colleagues in the hall to constitute a quorum and therefore we could not conduct business," Drilon said.

A seemingly irked Legarda said she waited the whole afternoon until midnight to sponsor the measure but to no avail. Since the bill is certified as urgent, it can be passed on 2nd and 3rd reading consecutively, skipping the 3-day rule.

In response, Drilon asked, if it is an urgent matter, why was the bill sponsored only now?

Legarda again said that the measure should be discussed so some 800,000 recipients of the Dengvaxia vaccine can avail of medical assistance soon.

The fund would be sourced from the P1.16-billion refund from Sanofi Pasteur, manufacturer of Dengvaxia.

The DOH provided the breakdown of the budget:

The Dengvaxia controversy began after Sanofi announced in November 2017 that its vaccine could lead to a more severe case of dengue when administered to a person who had not been infected by the virus before immunization.

Both houses of Congress conducted separate investigations into the matter. The Senate blue ribbon committee recommended the filing of criminal charges against former president Benigno Aquino III, his then-health secretary Janette Garin, former budget chief Florencio Abad, and other officials from the DOH, Sanofi, and Zuellig, the Philippine distributor of the vaccines.

The same officials are facing various cases before the Supreme Court, the Office of the Ombudsman, the Department of Justice, and the Commission on Elections. –