MANILA, Philippines — Former President Benigno Aquino III was slapped with a complaint before the Commission on Elections in connection with the government’s anti-dengue vaccine program that began during the last months of his administration.
The complainants, led by the Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption and former Department of Health consultant, Dr. Francis Cruz, accused Aquino, along with former DOH chief Janette Garin and former Department of Budget and Management secretary Florencio “Butch” Abad, of violating the Omnibus Election Code and the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act.
VACC and Cruz alleged that the previous administration, through Aquno, Garin, and Abad used the DOH’s vaccination program to influence the outcome of the 2016 national elections, including having DOH officials personnel wear shirts in yellow — the color identified with the Liberal Party — while they were immunizing children.
The Aquino administration was the one that made the decision in early 2016 to order P3.5-billion worth of Dengvaxia and had 733,000 children injected with the anti-dengue vaccine four months after the product was manufactured by French pharmaceutical giant Sanofi Pasteur.
The immunization project became marred with controversy after Sanofi disclosed last November that its vaccine posed health risks among people who didn’t have any history of contracting dengue but were injected with Dengvaxia.
VACC lawyer Manuelito Luna said the Aquino administration’s release of the P3.5-billion budget for Dengvaxia fell within the ban on the release of public funds as stated under the Omnibus Election Code.
“They implemented it first (on) April 4, 2016… (based on) the record of the Senate, they implemented…within the 45-day election bam,: Luna said.
“The release and disbursement of public funds within 45 days of the May 2016 elections is illegal. The other (is) electioneering, because they used the (vaccination) program under the guise of using the emergency without seeking an exemption from the Comelec,” he said.
According to the VACC lawyer, the Office of the President, the DOH, and the DBM are not exempted from that prohibition in the law.
Those found guilty of violating the code could be imprisoned for a minimum of six years without probation or pardon, said Luna.
He said incumbent government officials and employees found guilty of violating the code will also face suspension. Comelec may also perpetually ban violators from seeking public office.
“We are filing these charges and we hope that the Comelec Law Department will conduct a preliminary investigation,” Luna said.