Aquino, Abad, Ochoa to face Senate probe into dengue vaccine

MANILA, Philippines – Former president Benigno Aquino III, former executive secretary Paquito Ochoa Jr, and former budget secretary Florencio Abad are set to face the Senate blue ribbon committee investigating the dengue vaccine program implemented during their term.

Aquino said he hopes that his attendance on Thursday, December 14, would lead to a “more sober discussion” on the issue.

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

In an earlier text, the former president said he is ready to tell the truth.

“We want to participate in telling the truth to the people, as we have always done; at the same time, observing compliance [with] various laws, rules and traditions," Aquino said.

The camp of Aquino said Ochoa will also join the hearing.

Abad, for his part, also confirmed his attendance. In a text message to Rappler, Abad said he is “preparing” for possible budget-related questions pertaining to the vaccination program.

“I suppose they’ll ask about the budget releases – the timing, source of funding, the request and approval process,” Abad said.

Senate blue ribbon chair Richard Gordon has said that the speed with which the Philippine government approved the commercial release of the Dengvaxia dengue vaccine was “too fast,” hinting that a “conspiracy” might have been behind it.

Health Secretary Francisco Duque III earlier said that Aquino should explain why he supported the now-suspended dengue immunization program, which was launched during his term in 2015.

The target was to vaccinate more than one million public school kids aged 9 and above in the National Capital Region, Central Luzon, and Calabarzon.

Less than two years after the vaccination program was launched, manufacturer Sanofi Pasteur issued an advisory, saying its vaccine could lead to “more severe” cases of dengue when administered to a person who had not been infected by the virus prior to immunization.

Sanofi, for its part, warned that the permanent removal of its Dengvaxia dengue vaccine from the Philippine market would be a “disservice to the Filipino people.” – Rappler.com

Camille Elemia

Camille Elemia is Rappler's lead reporter for media, disinformation, and democracy. She won an ILO award in 2017. She received the prestigious Fulbright-Hubert Humphrey fellowship in 2019, allowing her to further study media and politics in the US. Email camille.elemia@rappler.com

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