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Ex-Pres. Aquino not yet needed in Senate's dengue vaccine probe – Gordon

There was presently no need for former President Benigno Aquino III to testify in the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee's investigation into the P3.5-billion procurement of the dengue vaccine Dengvaxia, committee chair Sen. Richard Gordon said in a statement issued on Sunday.

"At this point in the investigation, we have not invited President Aquino," explained Gordon. "We are not trying to judge anybody here. We are just saying, pumapasok ang gamot na bago, dapat tama ba na ganoon ang patakaran natin. Dapat ba baguhin natin?" 

"Remember, we are here in aid of legislation. We cannot prosecute anybody here, we can only recommend but we are not even on that aspect yet."

Those to be invited for the committee's next hearing on the Dengvaxia vaccine are medical experts and officials from the Department of Health (DOH) and its attached agencies, the Department of Budget and Management, and the Commission on Audit. These witnesses are expected to speak on the vaccine's attributes, the testing methods used on it and the results of those tests, and the DOH's procurement process.

Gordon said the Senate inquiry stemmed from concerns over the Dengvaxia vaccine's capabilities, and the manner and sufficiency in the testing of the drug.

"It behooves us in the government to see to it that when we get this kind of medication, we get the best and we must see to it that we examine the test protocol and results and that we come out with all the due diligence required of a good father to a child," the senator said. 

The Senate panel conducted its first hearing on the issue on December 6, 2016, following the deaths of two children, who received the first dose of the vaccine in April. 

The purchase of some P3.5 billion worth of dengue vaccines by the DOH was made during the Aquino administration. 

No appropriation from Congress

Gordon also pointed out that funds for the vaccines' purchase were immediately made available toward the end of year, despite the absence of any appropriation. 

"That was a huge amount of money, which was taken from the savings, no appropriation from Congress... It's just like DAP [Disbursement Acceleration Program]... We really need to investigate this," Gordon said. 

He also wanted to find out why the dengue vaccine was given priority when only 250 people per year died from the disease with over 200,000 persons afflicted, accounting only for 0.01% of the population. 

Additionally, dengue is not among the Top 10 health afflictions suffered by Filipinos. 

Gordon also pointed out that testing for the new vaccine had not been completed when the government procured it. 

He also questioned why the DOH started a new immunization program for dengue when the country had not yet satisfied the immunization requirements for other deadlier diseases as listed in the Millennium Development Goal. 

Despite all these questions, however, Gordon clarified that Congress was not standing in the way of the government's anti-dengue vaccination program. 

The vaccine was approved by the WHO in April 2016, the same month that the National Dengue Program was rolled out. 

Responding to accusations that Filipino children were used as guinea pigs, the vaccine's manufacturer Sanofi Pasteur argued that though the Philippines was the first to use the vaccine, 11 other countries had approved it. —DVM/KG, GMA News