Plunder complaint filed vs Aquino, Garin over Dengvaxia

Lian Buan
Plunder complaint filed vs Aquino, Garin over Dengvaxia
Complainant Ferdinand Topacio alleges that former president Benigno Aquino III conspired with Sanofi Pasteur and Zuellig Pharma to 'unjustly enrich' themselves through the P3.5-billion Dengvaxia purchase

MANILA, Philippines – The Dengvaxia controversy continues to hound former president Benigno  Aquino III and his administration, as a plunder complaint was file against him and other health officials over the purchase of the anti-dengue vaccine on Thursday, May 10.

Lawyer Ferdinand Topacio filed the complaint against Aquino before the Office of the Ombudsman for plunder, malversation of public funds, and graft. Others included in the complaint are the following:

  1. Former budget secretary Florencio Abad
  2. Former executive secretary Paquito Ochoa Jr
  3. Former health secretary Janette Garin
  4. Undersecretary Maria Carolina Vidal-Taiño
  5. Undersecretary Gerardo Bayugo
  6. Undersecretary Lilibeth David
  7. Undersecretary Mario Villaverde
  8. Assistant Secretary Lyndon Lee  Suy
  9. Assistant Secretary Nestor Santiago Jr
  10. Director Laureano Cruz
  11. Director Irma Asuncion
  12. Director Maria Joyce Ducusin
  13. Director Mar Wynn Bello
  14. Director Leonita Gorgolon
  15. Director Rio Magpantay
  16. Director Ariel Valencia
  17. Dr Julius Lecciones
  18. Undersecretary Nemesio Gako
  19. Undersecretary Vicente Belizario
  20. Undersecretary Kenneth Hartigan-Go 
  21. Dr Yolanda Oliveros 

Why plunder? The Aquino administration procured P3.5 billion worth of anti- Dengvaxia in 2016.

Questions about its rushed procurement, and alleged legal shortcuts, have been the basis of graft complaints against Aquino and Garin. 

Manny Luna, Topacio’s colleague at the Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption (VACC), even filed an election complaint, saying that the vaccination program was undertaken within the campaign prohibition period.

Why plunder in this case? Under a plunder complaint the respondents should have allegedly amassed ill-gotten wealth worth more than P50 million. The amount threshold is satisfied but the allegation that the respondents pocketted the money has to be proven.

Topacio argued that the sale of the vaccine showed that Dengvaxia manufacturer Sanofi Pasteur got the money. Aquino and Garin signing off on the deal means there is a conspiracy, the lawyer alleged.

“[They] took advantage of the official position to unjustly enrich themselves, Sanofi and Zuellig Pharma. at the expense and prejudice of the Eight Hundred Thirty Thousand (830,000) Filipinos who were vaccinated with an untested and now proved to be unsafe vaccine, Respondents have conspired and connived with each other to commit the crime of Plunder,” the complaint said.

Where’s the P500 million? A recently released audit report of the Commission on Audit (COA) raised questions on the procurement of Dengvaxia, including conducting bidding activities even before the agreement was signed.

The COA report only said P3 billion; Topacio’s complaint said P3.5 billion. 

According to the complaint, the remaining P500 million “was later re-allocated and commingled with another government project, the Health Facility Enhancement Program.”

“Coupled with the failure to account for more than PhP500,000,000.00 as explained by Dr Cruz, then there is more than enough reason, based on logic and human experience, that the Respondents have amassed huge amounts of money for personal gain, arising from the massive purchase of the Dengvaxia vaccine,” said the complaint.

Dr Cruz is physician Francis Cruz who briefly worked at the Department of Health (DOH) under former secretary Paulyn Ubial. He claims he had access to critical documents.

The Aquino camp reiterated that the former president is ready to face more complaints related to Dengvaxia.

Following the latest complaint, Aquino’s spokesman, Abi Valte, pointed to a seeming pattern in the VACC’s actions against the former chief executive, supposedly aimed at getting government positions. (READ: Aquino camp hits VACC ‘pattern’: File cases vs ex-president, get gov’t post)– 

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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 or tweet @lianbuan.