Aquino confirms Sanofi meetings but denies knowing questionable record

MANILA, Philippines – Former president Benigno Aquino III confirmed meeting with Sanofi Pasteur officials twice but said he was not informed of the charges against the pharmaceutical company.

At the Senate hearing on the Dengvaxia controversy on Thursday, December 14, Aquino said he met with Sanofi officials in Beijing on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit in November 2014, and then in Paris in December 2015.

The 2014 meeting, he added, was coursed through the Department of Health (DOH).

Senate blue ribbon committee chairman Richard Gordon then asked Aquino if he knew about the company's questionable record in the United States, China, Europe, and Africa, saying Sanofi was found guilty of bribery, corruption, and false product claims.

"On the allegations or charges against Sanofi, both for the China meeting nor the Paris meeting was I informed of any of these," Aquino said.

Gordon said the government should have observed a "certain amount" of due diligence in dealing with Sanofi Pasteur given its record. (READ: TIMELINE: Dengue immunization program for public school students)

"I'm just saying that with all these signs, I would imagine that the government and Secretary [Janette] Garin ought to have been more careful and circumspect in dealing with Sanofi," he said.

"We just want to point out, sir, without casting aspersion on your character, that when you meet with drug companies like these, and I’m sure Sanofi is not the only company… It's been happening… The point that I'm trying to make is that there ought to be a certain amount of due diligence," he added.

During the hearing, Aquino also addressed insinuations of corruption over the P3.5-billion Dengvaxia purchase and explained the rush in the procurement.

He also defended his administration's position and said no one advised him of the ill effects of Dengvaxia before, during, and after they administered the vaccines.

"From our perspective, the choice was simple: we can implement at this point in time to afford the protection or wait at least a year minimum and expose a risk that could be prevented because of this. I just want to state for the record, what we had then, none of these warnings in November 2017," Aquino said.

He was referring to Sanofi Pasteur's announcement that its vaccine could lead to "more severe" cases of dengue when administered to a person who had not been infected by the virus prior to immunization. – 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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