What the emails of VACC’s Dengvaxia witness say

Lian Buan

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What the emails of VACC’s Dengvaxia witness say
The witness, a physician, supposedly rendered service to the DOH under then Secretary Ubial

MANILA, Philippines – With a congressional hearing underway to probe the P3.5 billion dengue vaccination controversy, the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) also began its separate probe, targeted at former health secretary Janette Garin, former president Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III and other health officials.

NBI started its probe with a witness being handled by the Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption (VACC). 

According to text messages and emails obtained by Rappler, the witness is a physician who supposedly rendered service to the Department of Health (DOH) under then secretary Paulyn Ubial.

The witness, who VACC said was able to obtain pertinent documents, accuses DOH officials of a “grand-scale coverup.”

Here’s what’s inside the messages and emails:

1. Support for Ubial

From the emails, the witness supports rejected Health Secretary Ubial, and calls her “proven, with track record and competence.” 

The witness claims to have recommended to Ubial to temporarily stop the vaccination.

The witness sent the first text message to VACC counsel Ferdinand Topacio on June 4, 2017, amid deferments on her confirmation by the Commission on Appointments.

In a June 26 email, the witness expressed concern for how Ubial would handle the vaccination issue. At this point, despite issuing an earlier red flag, she had already issued a Certificate of Exemption for dengvaxia.

“Do we proceed as the DOH is proceeding, and just concern ourselves with the credibility of the SOH (Secretary of Health) and her entire DOH – as Sec Pau seems to be intent on doing now?” the witness said in a back and forth email with somebody else discussing the balancing act of “continuing with the way things are” and “going to town with exposés.”

2. Did the P3.55 billion come from sin tax?

The DOH said it sourced the funds from sin tax revenues, but the witness doubted this but offered no concrete information except that a Special Allotment Release Order (SARO) worth P3.55 billion was released on December 29, 2015.

“I disagree to Garin’s claim that came from the sin tax. The incumbent Department of Budget and Management (DBM) Secretary can confirm the real source of the SARO and whose authority this was released,” the witness said.

3. Kenneth Hartigan-Go

While Dengvaxia is manufactured by French pharmaceutical firm Sanofi Pasteur, it was distributed in the Philippines by Zuellig Pharma.

“Undersecretary Kenneth Hartigan-Go is the school head of the AIM Zuellig School of Development Management. This is a clear case of unethical ‘golden parachute,’” the witness said.

Go is still listed on the Asian Institute Management (AIM) website as the Head of the Department of Strategic Management of the Stephen Zuellig School of Development Management.

The witness claimed “dengvaxia got a super-quick certificate of product registration from FDA (Food and Drug Administration) supervised by Usec Kenneth Hartigan-Go.”

The witness also claimed that he “was key in justifying” the exemption for dengvaxia, to be included in the National Formulary.

Documents earlier obtained by Rappler show the Formulary Executive Council (FEC) recommended an exemption for only a year and to only conduct a small scale pilot testing. Garin decided to forego these recommendations; it’s not illegal, but it raises questions of propriety.

4. Short shelf-life

The unused vials of dengvaxia will expire in the first half of 2018, according to a report by ABS-CBN News.

“Sanofi and DOH should explain the short shelf-life of vaccines delivered including the 100% payment during Garin’s time,” the witness said.

The witness also claimed that the DOH “immediately sub-alloted” the P3.55 billion to the Philippine Children Medical Center (PCMC) “so as not to be reverted to the National Treasury.”

“PCMC has NO EXPERIENCE in managing a subnational vaccination program,” the witness said.

Likewise, minutes of meetings obtained by Rappler quote Go as saying including Dengvaxia in the formulary is a “political decision to allot the budget from the national agencies’ savings was already made by a higher Committee.”

5. Election ban

There was a ban on certain government works and disbursements from March 25 to May 8, 2016 pursuant to an election ban, so as not to be used for partisan activities.

It was in April 2016 when the DOH launched the vaccination. 

While the witness did not specify which provision of the Commission on Elections’ (COMELEC) ban was violated, he or she still suggested to investigate whether the DOH “secured an election ban exemption from Comelec.”

The witness also said that the pilot regions National Capital Region (NCR), Central Luzon, and Calabarzon were not where dengue was endemic, but may have been used to target voters.

6. Lifestyle check?

The witness said “a retired Undersecrrtary already bought a brand new SUV after resigning.”

“NBI should conduct lifestyle checks and review their SALNs. AMLC (Anti-Money Laundering Council) should come in and check their bank accounts for beneficiaries of multi-million payola,” the witness said.

Former president Aquino said he will explain himself in the proper forum.

Garin dragged predecessor Enrique Ona and said the talks of the vaccine began during his time.

In response, Ona said his sucessor is “solely responsible for all the decisions that has resulted in what is becoming to be a major health nightmare in the country today.” – Rappler.com

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Lian Buan

Lian Buan is a senior investigative reporter, and minder of Rappler's justice, human rights and crime cluster.