DOJ panel to probe raps vs. Aquino, et al over Dengvaxia mess

MANILA The Department of Justice (DOJ) has created a four-man panel to conduct a preliminary investigation to determine whether there is sufficient evidence to warrant the filing of criminal complaint filed by Vanguard of the Philippines, Inc. (VCPI) and Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption (VACC) against former President Benigno Aquino III, two former Cabinet officials and several former and incumbent health officials in connection with controversial anti-dengue vaccine Dengvaxia.

In Office Order No. 0439 dated Feb. 23 but was released to media on Monday, Acting Prosecutor General Jorge Catalan Jr. designated Senior Assistant State Prosecutor Rossane Balauag as head of the panel with Senior Assistant State Prosecutor Hazel Decena Valdez and Asst. State Prosecutors Consuelo Corazon Pazziuagan and Gino Paolo Santiago as members.

VACC, represented by lawyer Manuelito Luna, and VCPI through its president, suspended lawyer Eligio Mallari and lawyer Nasser Marohomsalic filed a complaint of violation of Section 3(e) of Republic Act 3019 which prohibits a public officer from giving a private party unwarranted benefits in the discharge of his administrative or judicial functions; Section 65(3) of Republic Act 9184 or the Government Procurement Reform Act; and Article 220 (technical malversation) of the Revised Penal Code (RPC); and Article 365 (criminal negligence) of the RPC against Aquino.

Dr. Francisco Cruz, who earlier testified in the Senate inquiry on the controversy, also joined VACC and VPCI as a co-complainant.

Aside from Aquino, named as respondents were former Budget Secretary Florencio Abad, former Health Secretary Janette Garin and Undersecretaries Dr. Carol Tanio, Gerardo Bayugo, Lilibeth David and Mario Villaverde; Assistant Secretaries Lyndon Lee Suy and Nestor Santiago; DOH Financial Management Service director Laureano Cruz; DOH directors Dr. Joyce Ducusin, Dr. May Wynn Belo, Dr. Leonila Gorgolon, Dr. Rio Magpantay, Dr. Ariel Valencia and Dr. Julius Lecciones; retired DOH Undersecretaries Dr. Nemesio Gako, Dr. Vicente Belizario, Jr., Dr. Kenneth Hartigan-Go; and Dr. Yolanda Oliveros, who served as Garin's head executive assistant.

Also named as respondents in the complaint were officials and employees of pharmaceutical company Zuellig, which supplied the controversial Dengvaxia vaccine, and Sanofi Pasteur, the manufacturer of the vaccine.

VPCI and VACC claimed that procurement of the Dengvaxia was irrefutably fast tracked and may have transgressed pertinent provision of the government procurement law.

A total of 830,000 children and 30,000 more, including members of the Philippine National Police, received doses of the Dengvaxia vaccine.

Since correlation between vaccine (Dengvaxia) and deaths had been established prima facie, respondents Aquino III, Abad, Garin and the other respondents (concerned DOH officials, past and present) should stand trial for criminal negligence under Article 365 of the RPC (Revised Penal Code).The respondents should be charged with multiple homicide and physical injuries through criminal negligence," read the 17-page complaint.

Earlier, Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II said it would be the burden of the private complainants to prove the criminal liabilities of the respondents during hearings.

"It is up to the complainants to prove their allegations. It is their duty to support their cases and not depend on another's submission," Aguirre said.

Aguirre said the complaint filed by VACC and VPCI is independent of other possible complaints to be filed by other parties on the same controversy.

"It would be up to the prosecutors how to treat the complaints, whether to consolidate them or resolve separately," he noted.

Aguirre earlier tapped the Public Attorney's Office (PAO) to provide legal assistance to families of children who developed severe dengue that led to either death or serious illnesses after getting the vaccine.

Aguirre said a clinical pathologist was important to determine the cause of death in the autopsies being conducted by the PAO forensic team led by Dr. Erwin Erfe.

Aguirre, however, said the expert should come from abroad with an impressive qualification.

It will not be a Filipino. It will come from abroad who can establish definitely the linkage between the Dengvaxia and the death or injuries suffered by the students, he explained.

Apart from PAO, the DOJ also ordered the National Bureau of Investigation to probe the controversial PHP3.5-billion dengue vaccine project of the DOH that reportedly posed health risks to children already injected but without history of the disease.

The DOH earlier suspended the implementation of the controversial P3.5-billion dengue vaccine project of the DOJ that reportedly poses health risks to children already injected but without history of the disease.

Source: Philippine News Agency