Department of Health

Why Ombudsman recommends charges vs ex-DOH officials over Dengvaxia

Jairo Bolledo

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Why Ombudsman recommends charges vs ex-DOH officials over Dengvaxia

DENGVAXIA. A health worker shows off used vials of Dengvaxia vaccine inside a storage facility of the local government health sector that was given to students during the school-based immunisation in Manila on December 4, 2017.

Ben Nabong/Rappler

The Ombudsman finds probable cause to recommend the filing of graft and technical malversation charges against some former health officials

MANILA, Philippines – A panel of the Office of the Ombudsman recommended the filing of charges against former Department of Health (DOH) officials over the Dengvaxia scandal.

In a 152-page resolution dated July 19, the Ombudsman panel recommended the filing of a charge for violation of section 3(e) of Republic Act No. 3019 or Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act, against the following:

  • Former DOH secretary and now Iloilo 1st District Representative Janette Garin
  • Former acting director Maria Joyce Ducusin
  • Former DOH undersecretary Gerardo Bayugo
  • Former DOH undersecretary Kenneth Hartigan-Go
  • Former Philippine Children’s Medical Center chief Julius Lecciones

The Ombudsman said the five acted “in conspiracy with one another.”

Aside from this, the Ombudsman panel also said it found probable cause to charge Garin, Ducusin, Hartigan-Go, and Lecciones for violation of article 220 of the Revised Penal Code (RPC) or technical malversation. Like in the graft case, the Ombudsman said the accused acted in conspiracy with one another. The two charges were recommended to be filed with the Sandiganbayan, the country’s anti-graft court.

Meanwhile, the Ombudsman said it did not find probable cause to charge all the respondents for alleged violation of section 65(3) of Republic Act (RA) No. 9184 or Government Procurement Reform Act, and Article 365 of the RPC (criminal negligence).

Panel chairperson Rex Raynaldo Sandoval signed the document, along with members Emerita Francia, Luisa Rabang, Riza Fernandez-Hugo, and Rodil Casal II.

Why Ombudsman recommends charges vs ex-DOH officials over Dengvaxia

Below is the full content of the Ombudsman’s resolution.

Proceedings at DOJ

The pending case before the Ombudsman was filed by the Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption and Vanguard of the Philippine Constitution, Inc.

  • A total of 42 respondents faced the complaints, including late former president Noynoy Aquino, former budget secretary Florencio “Butch” Abad, and representatives of private companies Sanofi and Zuellig.
  • The resolution issued by the Ombudsman stemmed from its review on the earlier resolution issued by the Department of Justice (DOJ)’s Panel of State Prosecutors.
  • The DOJ resolution, dated June 30, 2021, recommended the filing of the graft charge against Abad, Garin, Lecciones, Hartigan-Go, Ducusin, and Bayugo. The complaint against late president Aquino was dismissed due to his death.
  • Meanwhile, the DOJ dismissed the graft complaint against the other respondents due to lack of probable cause. The case later reached the Ombudsman, which had a slightly different finding in the case.
Ombudsman resolution

In its resolution, the Ombudsman concurred with the DOJ’s findings that respondents were not liable for criminal negligence and violation of Government Procurement Reform Act.

  • But, the office said it found probable cause to charge Garin, Lecciones, Ducusin, Bayugo, Hartigan-Go liable for graft. The Ombudsman only charged the said respondents, so the case against Abad was dismissed.
  • The Ombudsman also found probable cause to charge Garin, Lecciones, Ducusin, Hartigan-Go for technical malversation.
  • On criminal negligence, the Ombudsman said the complainants failed to show “any causal relation” between the alleged negligence and the resulting crime. The Ombudsman added: “The complaint failed to adduce concrete evidence who supposedly died or got injured (dengue shocks) and how, when, and where such death or injury took place. More importantly, what caused these deaths or injuries.”
  • The evidence was also insufficient to show how the respondents influenced “undue pressure” on the members of the bidding committee, according to the Ombudsman. The complainants also failed to show any specific act by the respondents “that could have influenced or unduly pressured” the bidding committee members to favor Zuellig.
  • In discussing the supposed graft, the Ombudsman said the respondents accorded “unusual treatment and accommodation” to Sanofi when they approved its marketing authorization application for Dengvaxia sans complete documentation.
What happened before
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The Dengvaxia inoculation became a highly controversial issue under past administrations.

  • After becoming the first Asian country to approve commercial sale of Dengvaxia in 2015, deaths of children inoculated with the vaccine were reported a year later in the country. (READ: TIMELINE: Dengue immunization program for public school students)
  • In 2017, the DOH suspended the dengue vaccination program.
  • A year after the Dengvaxia suspension, the DOH recorded low immunization rates among children. Only six out of 10 children received their scheduled vaccines. The high number of unvaccinated children also led to several outbreaks of measles in the country.
  • Recently, in February this year, the Supreme Court junked a continuing mandamus, which sought specific actions from the Philippine government in relation to the Dengvaxia issue. –

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Jairo Bolledo

Jairo Bolledo is a multimedia reporter at Rappler covering justice, police, and crime.