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Aquino faces Senate panel over dengue vaccine mess

FORMER President Simeon Benigno Aquino III will testify today before the Senate blue ribbon committee on the resumption of the investigation on the P3.5-billion procurement of Dengvaxia vaccines during his administration.

Aquino’s cousin, Sen. Paolo Benigno Aquino IV, in a text message to reporters, confirmed the former president’s attendance.

Former president Aquino seems to have anticipated the grilling that he will get.

“I hope that my appearing will promote a more sober discussion leading to the formulation of appropriate actions,” Aquino said.

The panel also invited to the hearing former Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa and former Budget Secretary Florencio Abad.

Committee secretariat said the invitation for Ochoa was not delivered because, according to a security guard, the former executive secretary is no longer staying there.

The invitation for Abad was received but there was no confirmation   on his attendance.

Senators are expected to ask Aquino to explain his two meetings with officials of vaccine manufacturer Sanofi – one in Paris and one in China – before the French pharmaceutical company cornered the dengue vaccines supply contract.

Aquino met with Sanofi officials on Nov. 9, 2014 in Beijing, China, and on Dec. 1, 2015 in Paris, France.

The Philippines approved the acquisition  of Dengvaxia in December 2015, the first in Asia, and the vaccination program began in April 2016.

Senate blue ribbon panel chair Sen. Richard Gordon said there was a possible conspiracy in the purchase of Dengvaxia vaccines from Sanofi Pasteur, because of the apparent haste in the procurement after Aquino and then Health Secretary Janette Garin met with the firm’s officials.

Gordon also pointed out that the budget for the procurement of the vaccines was not in the General Appropriations Act of 2016.

The Office of the President, through Ochoa, authorized the realignment of funds for various health projects, including the Dengvaxia program.

Senate majority leader Vicente Sotto III urged senators to look into the possible loopholes in the mandate of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to provide more teeth to its functions.

“There must be a mechanism that will somehow shield them from being ‘corrupted’ by giant pharmaceutical companies. People’s lives are at stake here. It’s always better to err on the side of caution,” Sotto said.

by: JP LOPEZ , Malaya