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Criminal charges also filed against ex-Cabinet members Abad, Garin

 

 

NEW CHARGES VS AQUINO, ET AL. Lawyers Manuelito Luna, Nasser Maromsalid and Eligio Mallari hold a criminal complaint against former President Benigno S Aquino III, former Budget Secretary Florencio Abad, former Health Secretary Janette Garin and other officials before filing it with the Department of Justice. The complaint stemmed from the purchase of P3.5 billion Dengvaxia vaccine.

 

MANILA – A fresh criminal charges of multiple homicide and injuries aside from other criminal complaints have been filed against former President Aquino, former Budget Secretary Florencio Abad, former Health Secretary Janette Garin and 17 others in connection with the controversial P3.65 billion purchase and use of the anti-dengue vaccine Dengvaxia which has been suspected to have resulted in some deaths among 800,000 children innoculated in a mass immunization drive.


The Vanguard of the Philippines, Inc. (VCPI) and Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption (VACC) filed through their lawyers the criminal complaint before the Department of Justice (DoJ). 

 

Aquino, Abad and Garin had maintained that the purchase of the vaccines was above board.

 

Earlier, the anti-crime group filed a complaint against Aquino and the other officials for violating the 2016 election ban on government projects when they implemented the Dengvaxia program.

 

They also filed administrative complaints against incumbent Health officials, alleging they committed gross negligence and grave misconduct in the implementation of the vaccination program.

 

New Health Secretary Francisco T. Duque III suspended the vaccination program last year after Sanofi Pasteur, the manufacturer of Dengvaxia, admitted that the medicine might cause more severe symptoms on people who have not contracted dengue.

 

Sanofi Pasteur paid about P1.6 billion to the government, but saying that the vaccine is effective, it refused to reimburse the full P3.5 billion.

 

In the complaint, the groups stated: “Since correlation between vaccine (Dengvaxia) and deaths had been established prima facie, respondents Aquino III, Abad, Garin “and the other respondents (concerned DoH officials, past and present) should stand trial for criminal negligence under Article 365 of the RPC (Revised Penal Code). The respondents should be charged with multiple homicide and physical injuries through criminal negligence.”

 

The VACC represented by lawyer Manuelito Luna; VCPI through its president, lawyer Eligio Mallari; and lawyer Nasser Marohomsalic personally filed the complaint which accused the Aquino and the other individuals for violation Section 3(e) of Republic Act 3019 which prohibits a public officer from giving a private party unwarranted benefits in the discharge of his administrative or judicial functions; Section 65(3) of Republic Act N0. 9184 or the Government Procurement Reform Act (GPRA); and Article 220 (technical malversation) of the Revised Penal Code (RPC); and Article 365 (criminal negligence) of the RPC.


Dr. Franciso Cruz, who earlier testified in the Senate blue ribbon committee hearing on the controversy, also joined the VACC and VPCI as a co-complainant.


Aside from Aquino, Abad and Garin, also named respondents were Health Undersecretaries Dr. Carol Tanio, Gerardo Bayugo, Lilibeth David and Mario Villaverde; Assistant Secretaries Lyndon Lee Suy and Nestor Santiago; Department of Health (DOH) Financial Management Service director Laureano Cruz; DoH directors Dr. Joyce Ducusin, Dr. May Wynn Belo, Dr. Leonila Gorgolon, Dr. Rio Magpantay, Dr. Ariel Valencia and Dr. Julius Lecciones; retired DoH Undersecretaries Dr. Nemesio Gako, Dr. Vicente Belizario, Jr., Dr. Kenneth Hartigan-Go; and Dr. Yolanda Oliveros who served as Garin’s head executive assistant.

Also named as respondents in the complaint were the officials and employees of pharmaceutical company Zuellig Pasteur, which supplied the controversial Dengvaxia vaccine and Sanofi Pasteur, which manufactured the vaccine. The complaint listed the chronology of events that showed the complicity of those accused in the criminal charges alleged against them:

  • On December 2, 2015 – Former President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino went to Paris for a Convention on Climate Change and met with Sanofi;
  • December 22, 2015 – the FDA approved the Dengvaxia vaccine which is Rx-based. (The product cannot be used in mass vaccination which may expose children to adverse effects.);
  • January 17, 2016 – In the first FEC meeting, Dr. Hilton Lam defended the economic study of the dengue immunization program;
  • January 21, 2016 – Dr. Julius Lecciones, Executive Director of PCMC, signed the purchase request for 2 million doses despite the absence of this drug in the Philippine National Drug Formulary (PNDF) that qualifies a drug to be used and supported by huge government funds – (Usually, it will take 1 year or 1-1/2 year years to include a drug in the PNDF;
  •  January 25, 2016 – Former Usec. Kenneth Hartigan-Go made a pronouncement as quoted, that, “Political decision to allot budget from the government was ready made and you rule here that it is based on technical aspect. You need to follow this”;
  • January 27, 2016 – In the second meeting of the FEC, Drs. Cleotilde How, Cecilia Maramba-Lazarte, Cecilia Jimeno and the other members of the Council questioned the cost effectiveness study of Dr. Hilto Lam;
  • February 1, 2016 – the FEC approved the exemption of Dengvaxia as mentioned by Dr. Antonio Dan, but was not accomplished;
  • February 3, 2016 – the FEC consulted everybody who are ready to launch the Program;
  • March 9, 2016 – Dr. Lecciones signed the purchase order for 3 million doses;
  • March 27, 2016 – Health advocates led by Dr. Dans and many scientists have gone to former Secretary Garin to alert the public on the public safety and the ADE phenomenon;
  • March 31, 2016 – a WHO representative expressed his support for the DOH program;
  • April 4, 2016 – the DOH commenced the dengue vaccination program to Grade 4 pupils in NCR, Calabarzon and Central Luzon;
  • April 12 to 14, 2016 – the guidelines for the Dengvaxia vaccine was sent out;
  • April 25, 2016 – The first death was recorded;
  • May 9, 2016 – The program was hastened due to the scheduled National and Local Elections on the same date; and
  • July 21, 2016 – Health Secretary Paulyn Jean Rosell-Ubial invited nine (9) persons to become expert panel including Dr. Anthony Leachon. The expert panel decided to stop the immunization program immediately. But, only the 491,811 pupils who have been immunized for the first dose can continue with the second and third doses. 


Fast-tracked deal


The VPCI and VACC claimed that procurement of the Dengvaxia was “irrefutably” fast tracked and may have violated the government procurement law.


A total of 830,000 children and 30,000 more, including members of the Philippine National Police (PNP), received doses of the Dengvaxia vaccine, the complaint stated.


“Clearly, the deaths and dengue shock or adverse events noted following (the) inoculation of Dengvaxia are correlated or linked. The causal relationship between (the) vaccine and deaths, dengue shock or adverse events, under the circumstances, could hardly be ignored,” the complaint added.


Moreover, the complainants pointed out that the purchase of the Dengvaxia vaccine was approved by Aquino and Abad even if the program had no allocation in the 2016 national budget.


“They should be held to account for the natural and probable consequences of their acts… Irrefutably, some deaths and dengue shocks are linked to Dengvaxia,” the complaint read.


“Doubtless, the respondents had violated (the antigraft law) by causing undue injury to any party, including the government. For which, they should (be) held to account,” the group argued.


“Undeniably, (they) had caused the procurement of millions of doses of the Dengvaxia vaccine… even if the same has no appropriation cover and does not belong to the same allotment class… In the process, they used innocent children as ‘guinea pigs,’” they added.


“Clearly, the deaths and dengue shock or adverse events noted following (the) inoculation of Dengvaxia are correlated or linked. The causal relationship between (the) vaccine and deaths, dengue shock or adverse events, under the circumstances, could hardly be ignored,” it added.


The groups  said they filed the complaint based on the testimonies of the resources persons invited to shed light on the issue by the House committee on health and the Senate committee on accountability of public officers and investigation (blue ribbon) jointly with other concerned committees which substantiated their claim that the respondents were “directly and proximately” responsible for the Dengvaxia vaccine mess.


“Not all respondents here are in Salary Grade 27 and up. There are respondents here, a number of respondents, are in (Salary) Grade 26 and below. So the one with jurisdiction there would be the DoJ. The DoJ has concurrent jurisdiction with the Office of the Ombudsman. It is not an exclusive authority of the Ombudsman but it is shared in so far as their investigative and prosecutorial powers are concerned. This is our rationale,” Luna said when asked why they filed the complaint before the DoJ instead of the Office of the Ombudsman.


Sought for a comment, Garin said that she is ready to face any charges.


“I welcome the case. We are ready to face any of the charges because my conscience is clear. It’s better to transfer the venue of the debate in court and stop the hysteria being generated by misleading questions and conclusions. Public health has been threatened and our people do not deserve this. The proper forum can delineate facts, scrutinize experts and allow the truth to prevail,” Garin said.

 

 

Abad said that he still not seen the complaint but if the issues relate to procurement and proper observance of accounting and budgetary rules, he is “confident that insofar as the role played by the DBM, everything was above board and according to rules and laws.”

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Defense department, Armed Forces on alert as deeper probe under way

By FRANCO G. REGALA

 

(Photo from Philippine Star)

 

CAMP AGUINALDO, Quezon City -- The Department of National Defense (DND) has received reports that there are foreign terrorists still operating in Mindanao despite the defeat by the military of the Islamist-inspired Maute Group in the five-month war in Marawi City.

 

Some of the foreign fighters or jihadists were reported to be helping the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) in the ongoing campaign in Maguindanao and North Cotabato.

 

To prevent a repeat of a Marawi City-like siege, the military in Maguindanao and North Cotabato has started hunting down the alleged foreign terrorists sighted with local armed men in the mountainous borders of the two provinces and the marshland of Maguindanao, according to Colonel Gerry Besana, chief of the 6th Infantry Division-Civil Military Operations (CMO).

 

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana made the revelation during the New Year's Call in Camp Aguinaldo, Quezon City as the Armed Forces of the Philippines has been alerted and tasked to investigate and go after the terrorists.

 

"Yun ang hinahanap namin ngayon. We are trying to confirm reports that there are foreign terrorists inside the country especially in Mindanao," Lorenzana added.

 

The reports, which came from Malaysia and Indonesia, claimed an increase of foreign terrorists coming from the Philippines' backdoor.

 

"We are trying to verify that,” he said, but added tht “up to now wala pa kaming nako-confirm."

 

And when asked on the possible ISIS presence in the south, Lorenzana said efforts were under way to check on this.

 

"It is ongoing. We are intensifying our monitoring there in South and as of now we cannot confirm the presence of foreign terrorists but there are homegrown terrorists there in the South we are sure of that," Lorenzana added. 

 

Meanwhile, authorities are closely monitoring several houses in Iligan City that could be linked to the Islamic State-inspired Maute terror group.

 

Iligan City Mayor Celso Regencia disclosed that 12 residential properties are titled under Maute names and 26 others are allegedly owned by former Marawi City Mayor Fahad Salic.

 

Salic, who was arrested in June 2017, had been charged for conspiring with the terror group engaged in an armed rebellion against the government, ABS-CBN reported.

 

Senior Supt. Leony Roy Ga, director of Iligan City Police Office, said many of the houses are already abandoned but they are still keeping a close watch.

 

While the Armed Forces  is doing everything in its authority to defeat terrorism, the citizenry also needs to play a role by reporting the presence of suspicious looking persons in their neighbourhood, according to AFP spokesperson Col. Edgard Arevalo when sought for comment on the purported entry of foreign terrorists in the country.

 

"We cannot discount the possibility of foreign fighters surreptitiously able to enter the country given our vast and porous borders," he added.

 

And while the military is exerting all efforts to guard possible entry points, Arevalo said they needed the vigilance, cooperation, and active participation of the citizenry in the communities who could monitor and report arrival of new faces in the neighborhood.

 

Such assistance was of great value together with the relevant domestic and international agencies, Arevalo pointed out.

 

He was referring to the conventions and agreements recently signed by the Philippines such as the trilateral joint patrol agreements with Malaysia and Indonesia which aimed to defeat piracy and terrorism in areas of common concern.

 

The foreign terrorists were reported to be  helping the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) in the ongoing campaign in Maguindanao and North Cotabato and Maj. Gen. Restituto Padilla, AFP spokesperson, said the AFP is looking into the reports.

 

"Oo, merong binitawang salita yun mga taga 6th Infantry Division (Lt. Col. Gerry Bersana of the 6th Civil-Military Operations). Positive, may mga nakita dun. Pero hindi pa ma-ascertain kung sino-sino yung mga yun (Yes, the 6th Infantry Division mentioned something about that. Positive, they saw something there. But they cannot ascertain yet whom they have seen)," he added.

 

These individuals are foreign looking, the AFP spokesperson admitted, but said validation is needed to determine whether these foreign fighters are among those reported present in the five-month battle in Marawi City.

 

"Foreign-looking but we need to validate and ascertain. Hindi namin sure (if galing Marawi) pero malamang iba ‘to (We are not sure if they were from Marawi but it seems these are from a different place)," he added.

 

Padilla declined to comment on whether the sighted foreign terrorists are Caucasian-looking.

 

"They may be any nationality that’s why there’s a need to check further. Tuloy-tuloy pa rin ang operations against BIFF, nangunguna diyan ay 6th Infantry Division sa ilalim ni Maj. Gen. Arnel Dela Vega (Operations against BIFF are ongoing. It is spearheaded by the 6th Infantry Division under Maj. Gen. Arnel Dela Vega)," he added.

 

This developed as the Philippine National Police (PNP) arrested two suspected members of the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) at a shopping mall in Isabela City in Basilan province.

 

Chief Supt. Billy Beltran, Police Regional Office-9 (PRO-9) director, identified the arrested suspects as Emran Ismael, who carries the aliases of Bantong Basintin and Bantong Basiri; and, Bryan Mohammad alias Pojong Attiun.

 

Beltran said they were arrested at around 9:15 p.m. last Friday at a shopping mall on La Purisima Street, Barangay Zone III.

 

He said the suspects have standing warrants of arrest for the crime of seven-count kidnapping and serious illegal detention penalized under Article 267 of the Revised Penal Code of the Philippines.

 

He said the court of Isabela City, Basilan did not recommend bail for the temporarily release of the suspects.

 

He said the suspects were involved in the kidnapping of seven workers of the Golden Harvest Plantation in Barangay Tairan, Lantawan, Basilan, on June 11, 2001.

 

The Abu Sayyaf bandits executed by beheading some of the hostages while the others have either escaped or rescued by pursuing military troops.

 

Beltran said the suspects were positively identified by two witnesses who are under the witness protection and security benefit program of the Department of Justice (DOJ). 

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