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MANILA, Philippines – Former health secretary and now Iloilo 1st District Representative Janette Garin and other ex-Department of Health officials are now facing charges filed by the Office of the Ombudsman in relation to the purchase of the Dengvaxia dengue vaccine.
In a document filed before the Sandiganbayan on Tuesday, October 24, the Office of the Ombudsman said Garin and four other officials violated section 3(e) of Republic Act No. 3019 or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act.
The government fund in question amounts to P3.57 billion used for the procurement of the Dengvaxia vaccine, manufactured by French pharmaceutical giant Sanofi , and the eventual implementation of the school-based immunization program under the administration of former president Benigno Aquino III.
Aside from Garin, the others charged include:
- Former DOH undersecretary Gerardo Bayugo
- Former acting director Maria Joyce Ducusin
- Former Philippine Children’s Medical Center chief Julius Lecciones
- Former DOH undersecretary Kenneth Hartigan-Go
They are accused of “conspiring and confederating with one another, and acting in evident bad faith, did then and there willfully, unlawfully and feloniously cause the realignment of government fund” in December 2015.
The Office of the Ombudsman in August 2023 recommended the filing of charges against the five government officials. The panel, however, did not find probable cause to charge them for criminal negligence and alleged violation of the Government Procurement Reform Act.
In a statement on Tuesday, Garin said they are confident that their “sound exercise of discretion, which is backed by science” will disprove the allegations.
“We see this case as an opportunity to finally put an end to the longstanding issue that apparently continues to haunt us,” she said.
“Finally, we firmly believe in the principles of justice and due process which our legal system upholds, we fully trust that our innocence will be duly proven and the truth will come out in due time,” Garin added.
‘First step to cleasing our name’
On November 13, Garin and her co-defendants posted bail at the Sandiganbayan in relation to the criminal charges, preempting the issuance of arrest warrants against them. That same day, the Sandiganbayan Second Division reportedly issued a resolution declaring that it found probable cause against the defendants in both charges – ground for the issuance of warrants of arrest.
Prosecutors had earlier recommended bail at P90,000 for the graft case and P18,000 for the technical malversation charge.
Garin said in a statement: “Posting bail is part of the agonizing process to prove our innocence. It is a crucial step in ensuring fair trial and safeguarding one’s rights.”
“We hope that this first step into cleansing our name can be dealt with timely so that scientists and doctors can perform our regular tasks. Resolving the issue once and for all is aligned to the Doctors for Truth clamor because global history have taught us that any vaccine demonized, usually spreads to include other vaccine preventable diseases and results to outbreaks,” she added.
Garin and DOH faced intense criticism over the Dengvaxia inoculation, after being the the first Asian country to approve commercial sale of the vaccine in 2015. The school-based vaccination program was launched in April 2016 and targeted over one million public school students in the National Capital Region, Central Luzon, and Calabarzon. (READ: TIMELINE: Dengue immunization program for public school students)
The controversy, however, led to low immunization rates among children.
The DOH suspended the dengue vaccination program in 2017 after Sanofi Pasteur issued an advisory that the vaccine could cause more severe cases of dengue if given to a person who had not been previously infected by the virus. – With report from Kaycee Valmonte/Rappler.com