Two senators question timing of former President Aquino meetings with Sanofi officials

Gordon, Ejercito say meetings were held prior to gov’t purchase of Dengvaxia

By Meanne Corvera
Eagle News Service

Two senators on Thursday said former President Benigno Aquino III with Sanofi Pasteur officials prior to the government’s P3.5-billion purchase of Dengvaxia should be looked into.

In a radio interview, Senator Richard Gordon, head of the  blue ribbon committee that is set to resume hearings together with the Senate health committee on the matter, said he found it unusual that Aquino met with Sanofi officials two times, and then the approval for the purchase moved forward very quickly.

Gordon was referring to the meetings held  last November 9, 2014 in Beijing, China, and several months later, on December 1, 2015 in Paris, France, after the United Nations Climate Change conference.

“November pagbalik, tumatawag na si (former Health Secretary Janette) Garin. Six months later, nagmeeting uli sa Paris. Tinapakan na talaga accelerator,” Gordon said.

He said there was also the timing of the approval of the money to be used for the over P3-billion dengue vaccine purchase.

The approval came on Dec. 29, 2015, or a day before the 2016 election campaign.

Senator JV Ejercito, head of the Senate health committee, echoed Gordon’s sentiment.

“Bakit kailangan magkaroon ng meeting before the procurement. Yun nga
ang talagang mabigat dito, kung talagang may mga shortcuts, kung
talagang ginawa ito in haste…Kasi parang titignan natin kung yung (Food and Drug Administration) kung gaano katagal sila mag-apply. Titignan natin kung gaano katagal inaprubahan itong Sanofi,” Ejercito said.

He said Aquino should explain why there were meetings in the first place.

Earlier, Abigail Valte, his former spokesperson, said the two meetings were made public as part of the former President’s schedule at that time.

“Ang iniiwasan ko lang dito na baka isipin na kami ay nangbebengga. The figure is P3.4 billion worth of fund and 700,000 na nabigyan ng vaccine. We are not a rich country with our very limited resources. We
must work on it. We want our public officials to use our scarce resources prudently,” Ejercito added.

The Dengvaxia snafu started when Sanofi issued a statement admitting “serious cases” could occur in people who were vaccinated but who were not afflicted with the virus beforehand.

It said the information was based on new studies released recently.

The procurement of the controversial dengue vaccine was done under Aquino’s administration, with then-Secretary Janette Garin at the helm of the Department of Health.