Noynoy Aquino questions House committee recommendation to sue him

MANILA, Philippines – Former president Benigno Aquino III on Friday, February 8, reacted to the House committee report that recommended the filing of criminal and administrative charges against him and his former Cabinet officials over the procurement of the Dengvaxia vaccine.

On Wednesday, February 6, the House committee on good government and public accountability and the committee on health voted 14-0 to pass their joint report on the months-long investigation into the Dengvaxia controversy.

The lawmakers argued that Aquino, his budget chief Florencio Abad, his health secretary Janette Garin, and other former government officials had a "collusion…to ensure that a large quantity of Dengvaxia vaccines would be purchased by the government" for grade school students in Metro Manila, Central Luzon, and Calabarzon for the dengue vaccination program in April 2016.

In a statement on Friday, Aquino questioned a line from the committee report that said, "There were warnings but he chose to listen to government experts."

The report noted that despite warnings – that the vaccine's safety and efficacy are still under review – Aquino approved the implementation of the dengue immunization program on the recommendation of health experts.  

The former president insisted that throughout the decision-making process, no one conveyed to him their objection against Dengvaxia, whether through text, a letter, or in person.

"Sa pahayag kong ito, walang sinumang sumalungat o nagsabing, 'Ako, nagbabala ako sa iyo.' Ngayon po, kung walang kumontra, ibig sabihin, tanggap nilang totoo ang sinabi ko. Saan ngayon galing ang sinasabi sa Committee Report?"

(In my statement, no one protested or told me, "I did, I warned you." Now, if no one objected, it means they knew that I was telling the truth. Where did that line from the committee report come from?)

Aquino also addressed the committee report's concern regarding the government funds used to purchase the vaccine and implement the dengue immunization program.

"Ang ginamit na savings para pondohan ang bakuna ay galing sa 2015 Miscellaneous Personnel Benefits Fund (MPBF). Ito po ay alinsunod sa depenisyon ng savings batay sa Korte Suprema at Kongreso," he said, noting that he approved the use of savings from the MPBF on December 29, 2015.

(The savings used to fund the vaccine are from the 2015 Miscellaneous Personnel Benefits Fund. This is in accordance with the Supreme Court and Congress' definition of savings.)

He said when he asked about the "item" to be used for the purchase of the vaccine, he was informed of the expanded program for immunization that was in the 2015 budget approved by Congress.

Aquino in his statement also explained the 2017 Sanofi advisory that said Dengvaxia could cause more severe cases of dengue if administered to a person who had not been previously infected by the virus. He said based on records, 837,902 persons received at least one dose of Dengvaxia.

"'Tinataya na 90% daw ng katao sa bansa ang na-expose na sa dengue. Ang tinatayang hindi pa nagka-dengue ay 10% naman. Ang sabi: .02% ng naturang 10% ang may riskong magkaroon ng severe dengue," he explained.

(It is said that about 90% of Filipinos have been exposed to dengue. About 10%, meanwhile, have not yet been exposed to dengue. They said .02% of the 10% are at risk of acquiring severe dengue.)

Based on Aquino's calculation, only 17 of the 837,902 could possibly acquire Grade I and II severe dengue. He then noted that there is no evidence yet indicating that Dengvaxia has caused deaths.

"Nasabi ko na rin: dahil sa pagpapaduda, pati ibang uri ng bakuna gaya ng para sa tigdas, tinatanggihan na. Ang resulta nga ng pagpapakaba sa ngayon: Measles outbreak, kasabay ng ulat na may 55 na batang namatay na dahil sa naturang sakit," he added. (READ: A year after Dengvaxia: Immunization drops, measles outbreaks soar)

(I've said this before: because of the scare, people are refusing other kinds of vaccines, including the vaccine for measles. The result: Measles outbreak, and the 55 reported deaths due to measles.)

Aquino said if his administration did not implement the dengue immunization program given the country's dengue problem, "marahil, ngayon naman, sinasagot ko ang higit 830,000 na nagtatanong: "May bakuna na pala, bakit 'pinagkait mo pa?'" (I could be answering the question of more than 830,000 people: There is already a vaccine available, why didn't we use it?)

The former president then hit his political enemies who criticize his work.

"Gumagawa sila ng isyu kung saan dapat walang isyu. Maliwanag naman po, 17 ang BAKA may risko na magkaroon ng Grades I at II na dengue, na hindi man lang pinakamalubha. Binalot nila ng intriga, pagdududa, at takot ang mga bakuna. Pinakaba ang 837,902 at ang buong sambayanan, kaya pati ang bakunang gaya ng para sa tigdas ay inaayawan," he added.

(They create an issue where there should be no issue. It's clear, only 17 could be at risk of acquiring Grades I and II dengue, not even the most serious grade. They surrounded the vaccine intrigue, doubt, and fear. They scared the 837,902, as well as the entire nation, and that is why they're refusing even the other vaccines, like the ones for measles.)

Aquino said he is leaving it up to the public to judge who is right.

This week, the Department of Health declared measles outbreak in Metro Manila as well as other areas in Luzon, Central Visayas, and Eastern Visayas

Interior and Local Government Secretary Eduardo Año on Thursday, February 7, said it was the vaccination scare brought by the Dengvaxia controversy that led to the measles outbreaks. – Jee Y. Geronimo, with a report from Mara Cepeda/Rappler.com