Former Philippine President BS Aquino received praises from his supporters for showing up at the Senate investigation being conducted on the purchase of dengue vaccine Dengvaxia from French Pharmaceutical company Sanofi Pasteur. It was akin to a child receiving an award just for showing up in class. It’s as if Aquino had a choice whether to attend or not. Some were even saying he acted with dignity. I wish these people – those who act like cult followers – would give us a break. They are scraping the bottom of the barrel trying to save the Aquino image. He was only forced to attend because not showing up would be worse for his public relations.
No, Aquino did not act with dignity. He read a prepared statement or, rather, a script insisting he did the right things in the procurement of the dengue vaccine. Watching the video of Noynoy speaking before the Senate committee reminds me of the reason why I started writing against the Liberal Party. I still cannot believe he became the President of the Philippines. He was struggling to read from a statement that somebody else obviously wrote for him.
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Aquino insisted that the purchase of Dengvaxia went through a process for “efficacy” and “safety” requirements. Oh really? What were those processes? I wish he was more specific. There are reports that came out recently saying a lot of experts warned against the risks of using Dengvaxia. One of them, a former Philippines health department undersecretary and former senior official at the World Health Organization (WHO) Susan Mercado, said that “the usual process for the DOH that has protected our children for so many decades was not followed”.
A Reuters report revealed that “key recommendations made by a Philippines Department of Health (DOH) advisory body of doctors and pharmacologists were not heeded before the program was rolled out to 830,000 children”:
After Garin’s announcement, the Formulary Executive Council (FEC) of advisers urged caution over the vaccine because it said its safety and cost-effectiveness had not been established.
After twice meeting in January, the panel approved the state’s purchase of the vaccine on Feb 1, 2016 but recommended stringent conditions, minutes of all three meetings show.
“Based on the available scientific evidence presented to the Council, there is still a need to establish long-term safety, effectiveness and cost-effectiveness,” the FEC told Garin in a letter on that day. The letter was reviewed by Reuters.
The FEC said Dengvaxia should be introduced through small-scale pilot tests and phased implementation rather than across three regions in the country at the same time, and only after a detailed “baseline” study of the prevalence and strains of dengue in the targeted area, the FEC letter and minutes of the meetings said.
The experts also recommended that Dengvaxia be bought in small batches so the price could be negotiated down. An economic evaluation report commissioned by Garin’s own department had found the proposed cost of 1,000 pesos ($21.29) per dose was “not cost-effective” from a public payer perspective, the minutes from the meetings reveal.”
Whoever wrote Aquino’s script did not read the Reuters report or was hoping the public would not read it. Aquino’s insistence that the procurement of Dengvaxia went through a strict process is not true. As a matter of fact, Aquino would not be forced to attend the hearing and face an inquiry into the dengue fiasco if the program really did go through a rigorous process. One would think that since thousands of lives were at stake, Aquino would have given instructions to his then Department of Health Secretary Janette Garin not to cut corners in implementing the program.
Aquino may not be a doctor and may have relied on Garin to brief him about the risks involved, but at the end of the day, Aquino called the shots and gave the go signal for the purchase of the vaccine. In other words, blood is in both Garin and Aquino’s hands.
The truth is, Aquino could not wait to implement the program, perhaps wanting to add more to his so-called “legacy” and so approved the use of savings or “unutilised funds” that was not meant for the department of health to fast-track the purchase of the vaccine. He also defended this at the hearing saying “If by December 31, you do not utilize these unutilized funds, it reverts back to the national treasury, then how do you fund it?”
He basically admitted to violating the 2015 Supreme Court ruling that the creation of savings from un-obligated allotments prior to the end of the fiscal year without complying with the statutory definition of savings under the General Appropriations Act (GAA) is unconstitutional. For that, Aquino and his then Budget Secretary Butch Abad has to be held accountable, definitely.
Someone should investigate whether or not (and, if so, how much) bribes were given out by Sanofi and who were the recipients after the deal was made. Aquino and Garin were wined and dined by the Sanofi Pasteur officials in China and Paris on November 2014 and December 2015. The public was not privy to the deals made then. The public should be alarmed by the lack of transparency and the speed with which the deal was made.
As usual, Aquino washed all this off his hands and insisted that “he was not informed of the company’s supposed involvement in bribery and false claims on their products.” That’s not something a person who follows strict guidelines would say. That’s not something a person with dignity would say. That’s something a person who tries to appear innocent would say. It’s something Aquino would say. He quite often used lame excuses to get away with violating the law. He’s doing it again.
It was a shame to see the members of the Senate committee still deferential to Aquino during the hearing. It’s quite baffling why they still treat him with kids’ gloves. Senator Richard Gordon was disappointing when he apologised for asking “tough” questions. They were not even the right questions that could lead to the useful answers. It seems patronage politics is once again saving Aquino’s ass. It’s so obvious the senators were soft on him during the hearing. Patronage politics is the reason why public servants in the Philippines do not feel accountable for their actions. They know being well-connected and doing “favours” is enough to “get out of jail”.
While it is good to see Aquino being made to respond to his failed and deadly policies during his term, the public still has to bear the chore of hearing him speak again. It was so annoying to hear him use terms such as “po” and “sa atin” just to sound humble and deferential. He was also trying to sound like he was very careful in assessing the risks involved. Only his rabid followers would believe him though.
In life, things are not always what they seem.