DOJ to Aquino, Garin, Abad: Answer Dengvaxia vaccine charges

MANILA, Philippines – The Department of Justice (DOJ) ordered former president Benigno Aquino III, former health secretary Janette Garin, and former budget secretary Florencio Abad to answer criminal charges filed against them over the implementation of a multibillion-peso dengue immunization program.

The DOJ subpoenaed the 3 former officials to appear before the department on Friday, March 23, at 10 am for a preliminary complaint filed by the Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption (VACC) and Vanguard of the Philippine Constitution Incorporated (VPCI).

The parties only received the subpoenas, dated March 1, over the weekend.

Other former and incumbent officials, particularly those from the Department of Health (DOH), also face charges.

What's going on: The former officials are facing charges over alleged anomalies in the dengue immunization program implemented by the Aquino administration.

The program, which was controversial since the beginning, grabbed headlines in late November 2017 after Sanofi Pasteur – maker of the Dengvaxia dengue vaccine – said its product could pose risks to those who had not been infected by the virus before immunization.

The VACC filed the complaint based on testimonies of resource persons who claimed during Senate and House probes that Aquino, Garin, and Abad were "directly and proximately" responsible for the Dengvaxia problem. (READ: Aquino denies election offenses linked to Dengvaxia)

Aquino himself said during the congressional hearings that nobody advised him of the potential risks of the vaccine. He denied rushing the program. (READ: Aquino says unqualified 'experts' politicized Dengvaxia probe)

The 3 former officials are required to submit their counter-affidavits responding to charges of multiple homicide and physical injuries under the Revised Penal Code, malversation of public funds, and violations of Republic Act No. 3019 (Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act) as well as RA No. 9184 (Government Procurement Reform Act).

The following former and incumbent officials were also named respondents in the charge sheet:

Executives of Sanofi and Zuellig Pharma, the local distributor of Dengvaxia, were also charged. (READ: Sanofi denies concealing Dengvaxia risks from Philippines)

Context: Following Sanofi's announcement in November 2017, the DOH suspended the vaccination program, which had been expanded under the Duterte administration. But by then, 800,000 schoolchildren had already received at least the first dose of the vaccine through the program.

Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II ordered the Public Attorney's Office (PAO) and the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) to conduct a fact-finding probe into the possible liabilities of Aquino-era officials in the Dengvaxia mess.

The DOH, meanwhile, tasked a panel of experts from the University of the Philippines-Philippine General Hospital (UP-PGH) to conduct a separate probe. Based on the experts' initial findings, 3 out of 14 children died of dengue even after receiving Dengvaxia. (READ: PAO insists on examining Dengvaxia deaths without UP-PGH experts– Rappler.com