MANILA -- A total of 13 officials of the Department of Health (DOH) issued a statement late Wednesday, denying allegations of corruption over the procurement of the controversial dengue vaccine, Dengvaxia.
The officials, led by Undersecretary Mario Villaverde, said they “categorically deny” the accusations hurled against them by former DOH consultant, Dr. Francisco Cruz, over their alleged “connivance” in the procurement of Dengvaxia and their “participation in (the) supposed Mafia group in the DOH”.
“The allegation on the conversion modus operandi is a big lie. The balance of PHP556,155,900 remains intact and part of the open obligation in favor of (the) Philippine Children’s Medical Center,” read their statement.
Other signatories to the statement were undersecretaries Lilibeth David, Gerardo Bayugo, and Ma. Carolina Taiño; assistant secretaries Lyndon Lee Suy, and Nestor Santiago Jr.; directors Maria Joyce Ducusin, Laureano Cruz, Mar Wynn Bello, Leonita Gorgolon, Ariel Valencia, and Rio Magpantay; and Dr. Julius Lecciones.
Health Secretary Francisco Duque III recently urged those supposedly involved in the “mafia” in the department to speak up and prove their innocence.
"I encourage those who are painting the Department of Health in (a) bad light to present evidence to substantiate their claims. I cannot allow accusers to tarnish the good reputation of the Department of Health, which (was) gloriously built over the years, by spewing unsubstantiated allegations,” Duque said in an interview with the media.
He also warned that he “will not allow corruption under my watch”.
“If they have evidence to support the allegations, I encourage them to go forward and file the necessary cases," he said, adding that he wanted the truth to come out.
In a news conference last Jan. 13, Cruz, a consultant during the term of former health secretary Paulyn Ubial, identified 18 incumbent and former DOH officials whom he said had benefited from the PHP3.5-billion Dengvaxia deal and in the procurement of other medicines.
According to reports, Cruz accused the officials of being involved in a conversion scheme, wherein 90 percent of the project’s budget goes back to the department, and the remaining 10 percent to the financiers or suppliers.
Villaverde, a presidential appointee, in an interview Wednesday called the allegations baseless, saying he was not connected with the DOH when the Food and Drug Administration approved the use of Dengvaxia for the department’s dengue immunization program.
He said he began as a rural physician after graduation and rose from the ranks in the DOH to become undersecretary until he retired in 2011. He only rejoined the department in January 2017 when President Rodrigo Duterte appointed him.
“Nasa academe ako. Anim na taon ako nawala dito sa department na ito (I was in the academe. I was out of this department for six years),” he said, noting that he was with Ateneo de Manila University at that time.
He also denied any affiliation with Sanofi Pasteur, manufacturer of Dengvaxia.
Meanwhile, in a separate interview, Director Mar Wynn Bello, officer-in-charge of the DOH’s Health Promotion and Communication Service, also strongly denied the allegation.
"Walang kinurakot na pondo. Ang 550 milyong natira sa pagbili ng bakuna ay buong-buo at ito ay nasa book of accounts ng DOH noong 2016 na walang nakitang anomalya ang COA tungkol dito (No fund was embezzled. The PHP550 million left after the procurement of the vaccine is there in its entirety. It is in the book of accounts of the DOH in 2016 and the Commission on Audit did not find any anomaly)," Bello said.
He maintained that the dengue vaccination program was implemented with the best of intentions.
Bello also challenged Cruz to file a formal case “so we can defend ourselves”. (PNA)