Dengvaxia: corruption kills

No amount of explaining made by former President Benigno Simeon C. Aquino III and former DOH Secretary Janette Garin can erase the obvious fact that the P3.5 billion procurement of Dengvaxia vaccines that were later administered on 830,000 school children was rushed with amazing speed while disregarding potential hazards to those vaccinated.

Gordon and garin

No responsible government official would gamble on the health of its people with a drug — supposedly a miracle drug — that had yet to be proven efficacious, with no risks that could bring death, or serious illness, to beneficiaries. It is clear from the testimonies of Mr. Aquino, Dr. Garin and other officials during the two public hearings conducted by the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee that the Philippine government purchased Dengvaxia with a deadline to beat. The deadline wasn’t an epidemic in which every day that went by caused thousands of death; it was December 31, 2015 after which the funds they had set aside was going to revert to the public treasury.

We have heard the saying, “haste makes waste.” In this case, it became “haste is deadly.”
What makes it more painful for the Filipino people is that the deadly haste was motivated by insatiable greed. The officials who pushed this program through were fully aware of the objections raised by experts. And still they chose the color of money over the lives of innocent children.

There’s even no need to delve deep into the scientific issues about the drug’s efficacy. Just one look at how the procurement was undertaken is enough to prove the corruption. Among the cardinal principles of the government procurement law are transparency and competitiveness. And the law requires that any purchase must be included in the annual procurement plan of the agency. In addition, funds must have been appropriated for the purpose.

The timeline as revealed by Blue Ribbon chairman Senator Richard “Dick” Gordon shows that the entire procurement activity was shrouded in darkness and undue haste. Documents like the SARO (Special Allotment Release Order) from the Department of Budget and Management for the entire amount, the FDA certification and Formulary Exemption Council (FEC) exemption were issued as if these were just pieces of paper picked up from the shelves of a store, within a few days of each other. Those who transact with the FDA will tell you a certification even for vitamin supplements that are already being sold in the United States could take one to two years! In this case, the FDA certificate was issued in about nine months! And that’s for a drug that was yet not proven safe.

But the corruption now takes the backseat as an entire nation stews with anger over the potential health hazards posed by exposure to the vaccine. The manufacturer, Sanofi Pasteur, had issued an advisory warning that vaccinating children with Dengvaxia with no previous exposure to dengue could lead to more virulent strains of dengue. This has caused widespread fear and worry among families of the 830,000 children who were vaccinated with Dengvaxia. While no deaths have been reported as a direct result from Dengvaxia vaccination, the Sanofi advisory was enough to trigger an outrage never seen before.

The only sore point in this scandal was the pronouncement of President Rodrigo Duterte that he didn’t think Garin is culpable. What she did was done in good faith, Pres. Duterte said. With due respect, Mr. President, only a naive individual could possibly buy that theory. Garin is guilty as a principal in this grand conspiracy, along with Mr. Aquino, former DBM Secretary Butch Abad and other officials who made it happen.

A giant comeback

The appointment of Janet Garin as DOH secretary completes the comeback of the 1st district political dynasty in the national stage.Janet Garin
It shows the political adroitness of the patriarch, former Congressman Oscar Garin, in jumping from one administration to another.
The Garins have never stayed out of the political loop of every administration for too long.
In 2000, Oca Garin was appointed by Pres. Erap as presidential assistant for Western Visayas. He hesitated. He accepted the appointment sometime in November 2000 or thereabouts. By January 2001, Erap was kicked out from office, leaving Garin drifting in the political ocean.
But true to form, Garin quickly got into the good graces of the Gloria Arroyo administration. Before long, he was appointed as chief of the Philippine Coconut Authority.
Garin was a marked man as far as Liberal Party leader Franklin Drilon was concerned. Drilon regarded him as a mortal enemy. Corruption issues flew thick in Garin’s wake. In 2010, Garin campaigned for Villar. When he saw that the victory of Noynoy was unstoppable, changed colors three days before the elections.
It was not enough to gain him entry into the good graces of the Aquino administration. He was ultimately removed as PCA chairman and once again stayed as a benchwarmer.
That changed, however, in 2012. Drilon embraced Garin to pave the way for a “unification ticket” for the Liberal Party. Garin’s wife and children all ran under the LP banner in 2013 and won. Janet Garin was appointed DOH undersecretary.
And now Janet is DOH secretary. Oca Garin must be wearing a big smile these days. He has once again outmaneuvered everybody, including the grand old man of the Liberal Party in Iloilo, Niel Tupas Sr.
Tupas, who sacrificed greatly for party platform and principles, does not even hold an appointive position.
I am not saying that Dr. Janet Garin is not competent. She is intelligent and capable. She might even make a good DOH secretary.
But the message is that this appointment conveys is that the Aquino administration has embraced traditional politics as a means to survival and strengthen its chances of getting a partymate to succeed H.E. Benigno Simeon C. Aquino III on June 30, 2016.