MANILA -- Senator Sherwin Gatchalian said Wednesday he signed the draft Senate committee report on the Dengvaxia mess with reservations because he is not convinced that former president Benigno Aquino III is criminally liable for the botched PHP3.5-billion dengue vaccination program.

Last week, Senator Richard Gordon, chairman of the Blue Ribbon Committee, said Aquino, along with former health secretary Janette Garin, and former budget secretary Florencio Abad should be charged over the botched vaccination program.

Gordon said Aquino, Garin, Abad and other government officials implemented the Dengvaxia program with "undue haste” and should be investigated and prosecuted for graft and violation of the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees.

“Ang aking reservation ay patungkol kay former president PNoy dahil sa aking pagbasa ng report at sa aking pag-analyze ng situation, si PNoy ay hindi naman doctor at siya ay nagre-rely sa mga advice ng kanyang Secretary lalo na pagdating sa medical and technical advices (Based on what I’ve read on the report and my analysis of the situation, PNoy is not a doctor and he just relied on the advice of his Secretary, especially when it came to medical and technical advices),” Gatchalian said during the weekly Kapihan sa Senado forum.

“Si Garin, being a doctor, he relied on the advice of the former Secretary pagdating sa pag-administer dito ng (when it came to the administration of) Dengvaxia. Wala rin akong nakitang report na sinadya ni PNoy na i-administer ito (I also did not see any report that he intentionally administered it) or showed hidden motives or bad faith. So I would assume that he administered Dengvaxia because of the advice of his Secretary for Health,” he said.

Gatchalian said that while Aquino may not be criminally liable, the former president should still be held accountable for the Dengvaxia mess.
"Hindi ako kumbinsido na criminally liable siya. (I am not convinced that he is criminally liable.) He might be accountable to the whole program because at the end, he is the president, and the president should be accountable to all actions of the government. However, criminally liable, hindi ako sang-ayon doon, dahil nga at the end, si Secretary Garin ang nagrekomenda (I don’t agree with that because in the end, Secretary Garin made the recommendation)," he said.

The senator said Aquino’s legal liability should be studied carefully but he is accountable, being the head of the government.

“But accountability doesn't mean that you are also criminally liable, so pag-aaralan natin ang participation niya pagdating dito (let us study his participation here),” he added.

Investigations, in fact, pointed to Garin as the “prime mover” of the botched program because it was she who made the recommendation, Gatchalian said.

“Siya talaga ang gumawa ng paraan para magkaroon ng budget dahil wala naman talagang budget ito eh -- from zero budget nagkaroon ng PHP3.5 billion budget -- at siya rin ang gumawa ng paraan para malagay ito sa Philippines’ Children Center. (It was she who found the budget -- from zero to PHP3.5 billion. She also found a way to put it at the Philippines’ Children Center.) So she is really the prime mover of this Dengvaxia fiasco,” he said.

For him, former health secretary Paulyn Ubial is also equally liable in the Dengvaxia mess.

He noted that it was during Ubial’s term that the vaccination program was elevated from school-based to community-based and caused the vaccination of 347,000 children, even including some policemen from Valenzuela City.

“Mas mahirap i-monitor ang community-based (It is more difficult to monitor the community-based program) so in my mind, we cannot hide the fact that Secretary Ubial also administered new cases of Dengvaxia. So she is equally liable, just like Secretary Garin,” Gatchalian said.

He said that even Ubial’s explanation that she "succumbed" to pressure coming from congressmen is unacceptable.

“Sa akin, hindi tamang dahilan (For me, that is not a good reason) because why would you give in to peer pressure ng mag politico (of politicians)? Ang kapalit doon ay buhay naman ng mga bata at kababayan natin. (At stake were the lives of children and our countrymen.) In fact, she succumbed to the pressure to save her job, to save her employment for being a secretary in the government. So para sa akin, hindi po tama ito. (For me, that was not right.) Kung hindi niya tinuloy ito, hindi sana nadagdagan ang nabigyan ng Dengvaxia na umabot ng 347,000 na mga bata (If she did not continue the program, then the number of Dengvaxia recipients would not have reached 347,000 children),” Gatchalian said.

He said that he expects a lot of debate when the Blue Ribbon Committee report reaches the plenary, with much of the debates focused on the alleged liability of Aquino. (PNA)