MANILA, Philippines — Former President Benigno Aquino made a pitch to let only experts speak on the Dengvaxia issue to avoid spreading panic through unfounded conjectures that can only harm the public welfare.
“Silang mga aral at eksperto, sila po ang ating pagsalitain para mapayuhan tayo nang maayos (The learned and the experts, let them speak so we can be advised properly),” Aquino said at Monday’s hearing of the House of Representatives’ committee on good government and public accountability.
He also lamented that the health issue had been muddled by politics and reminded public servants “na ang bawat opisyal ng pamahalaan, elected man o appointed, ay may Oath of Office. Bahagi nito, nakasaad ang (that all government officials, elected or appointed, have an oath of office. Part of this says),‘to uphold and defend the Constitution’.”
Pursuing his point, he quoted Article II Section of the Constitution: “The maintenance of peace and order, the protection of life, liberty, and property, and promotion of the general welfare are essential for the enjoyment by all the people of the blessings of democracy.”
“Diin ko po: Sa pagpapa-kaba, sa paghaka-haka, sa pagpapaduda, tinutupad ba ninyo ang (I stress: In sowing fear, in speculation, in casting doubt, do you fulfill the ‘promotion of the general welfare’, pati na ang (as well as) ‘protection of life’?” Aquino asked.
Aquino noted that the fears raised by politicking in the Dengvxia issue has led to increasing numbers of households refusing vaccines for other diseases.
“Ibig sabihin, tinatanggihan nila ang proteksyon laban sa sakit. Katumbas noon ang posibilidad ng karamdaman, at karugtong noon ang lahat ng uri ng problema gaya ng pagpapa-ospital, kawalan ng kita, at posible rin ang kamatayan. Baka ‘di ito ang sadya ng mga namumulitika, pero narito na po tayo ngayon,” he said.
(This means, they are refusing protection from disease. The consequence of this is possible sickness, and all other kinds of problems like hospitalization, lack of income, and possible death. This may not be the intention of those politicking on the issue, but this is where we are now.)
During his administration, Aquino said the first order of the day during crises or calamities was to show that government was “in control.”
“Layon naming pakalmahin ang ating mamamayan. Pag kalmado sila, mas madaling maihahatid ang serbisyo at kalinga ng gobyerno (Our aim was to calm the people. Once calm, it was easier to deliver government services and care),” he said.
He also lashed out at “one noisy person” he said has questionable medical qualifications but who he did not name.
Pointing to the proliferation of clashing opinions on the dengue vaccine controversy, Aquino said: “Masakit po nito, lahat na lang po may opinyon, kwalipikado man o hindi, lalo na po ‘yung isang maingay na ang certification ay tila isang antas lang ang lamang sa nabibiling diploma sa Recto (Painfully, everyone seems to have an opinion, qualified or not, especially that noisy one whose certification seems to be only a notch above those one can buy at Recto).”
Recto Avenue is the Manila thoroughfare that has gained a reputation as the place where people can go for forged documents like diplomas, certificates and identification cards, among others.
Aquino, who earlier appeared at the Senate hearings into the controversy, said he chose to also face the House inquiry to put the discussion in the right context.
It was during Aquino’s presidency when the dengue vaccine was purchased for P3.5 billion and administered to about 830,000 children in Metro Manila, Southern Luzon, Central Luzon and Central Visayas, the areas found to have the highest incidence of dengue in 2015.
The Department of Health suspended the vaccination program last year after Sanofi Pasteur, the manufacturer of Dengvaxia, admitted it might cause more severe symptoms in people who did not contract dengue before inoculation.
Sanofi Pasteur refunded about P1.6 billion to the government, but refused to reimburse the full P3.5 billion, maintaining that the vaccine is effective.
Together with former officials of the Department of Health, Aquino is facing several criminal complaints after the Public Attorney’s Office found a link between the deaths of at least five children and the vaccine.
Also present at the House hearing were former Budget Secretary Florencio Abad and former health Secretary Janette Garin.