The House committees on good government and public accountability and on health have jointly started the inquiry into the alleged anomalous procurement by the Department of Health (DOH) during the previous administration of Tetravalent Dengue Vaccine amounting to P3.5 billion for its school-based immunization program.
The procurement was undertaken during the term of former DOH Secretary Janette Loreto-Garin. The same issue has been the subject of several hearings done by the health committee before it was referred by the rules committee to the committee on good government chaired by Rep. Johnny Ty Pimentel (2nd District, Surigao del Sur) for a joint probe with the health panel chaired by Rep. Angelina D. L. Tan (4th District, Quezon).
The investigation was initiated on the basis of the following: privilege speech of Rep. Doy C. Leachon (1st District, Oriental Mindoro) which detailed the “apparent, obvious and manifest illegality of the procurement and misappropriation of public funds” relative to the dengue vaccine immunization program; and House Resolution 444 authored by Tan and HR 480 by Rep. Estrellita B. Suansing (1st District, Nueva Ecija), both calling for an inquiry into the DOH school-based immunization of Tetravalent Dengue Vaccine after two pupils who received the first dose of the vaccine died April last year.
“The committee on good government and public accountability will look into the alleged irregularities on the procurement of the dengue vaccine, while the issue on the safety and efficacy of the vaccine is well within the jurisdiction of the committee on health,” Pimentel said in his opening statement during the hearing.
Tan thanked the House leadership for taking immediate action on the issue involving the school-based dengue immunization program of the DOH to protect the health of the public.
“Recognizing the serious repercussion of the immunization program on the health of our schoolchildren, the committee immediately conducted the hearings on the subject that was well within its jurisdiction being a public safety and welfare issue,” Tan said.
After the rules committee ruled that a joint hearing be initiated to investigate the matter, Tan and Suansing moved that the committee report they have prepared on the result of their earlier investigation be included in the final report to be prepared by the committee on good government, subject to the amendments of the members of the committee.
In his privilege speech last year, Leachon detailed the seeming deviations from the standard procedures relative to bidding processes for any government agency, as was also earlier reported by Health Secretary Dr. Paulyn Jean Rosell-Ubial in her presentation of “red flags” during one of the hearings of the health committee.
Leachon also questioned how an item not included in the DOH annual procurement budget and in both the 2015 and 2016 General Appropriations Act (GAA) was issued a SARO by the Department of Budget and Management (DBM), and referred to the unconstitutional disbursement acceleration program (DAP) fund issue.
“What is alerting is, we need to be clarified about the procedures to be taken during biddings, especially that the P3.5 billion (procurement amount) is a lot of money, and not to mention that the health and lives of people are at stake here,” said Leachon. He said the dengue vaccines purchase seemed to have been fast-tracked and might have violated existing laws.
Furthermore, he wondered how the DOH, whose annual budget for the whole national immunization program for 2015 and 2016 amounted to P3.3 billion and P3.9 billion respectively, decided to allot a budget of P3.5 billion for one single vaccine.
Leachon also conveyed his disappointment over the lack of enthusiasm shown by representatives of concerned agencies, which are crucial to the investigation. These agencies include the Formulary Executive Committee (FEC-DOH), Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and the DBM, among others. He stressed the need to compel these officials to appear in the next hearings or face serious consequences.
In sponsoring her resolution, Suansing said there is really an urgent need to review the processing and registration of the subject dengue vaccine, including the contract to purchase, to ensure the vaccine’s safety; and identify the violations committed during the procurement of the dengue vaccines.
“The primary task of the House of Representatives is to legislate landmark laws in promoting the welfare and safety of our people. There is an urgent need to review the present system of approving drugs, including vaccines for consumers’ use, by concerned agencies (FDA, FEC and DOH) in order to determine if there were institutional overlaps in their mandates and establish possible conflicts of interest in the processing and registration of the dengue vaccine,” Suansing said.
Rep. Mark O. Go (Lone District, Baguio City) noted that the agreement prior to the actual purchase has left no leverage for the government to negotiate.
“It appears we no longer had the leverage because we already agreed to buy from them. We should have defined all our requirements first before we even probably signed the PO (Purchase Order). The problem here is that they are the ones dictating now on us on how they will deliver the products to us,” said Go.
Rep. Henry S. Oaminal (2nd District, Misamis Occidental) asked the agencies if all procurement procedures were followed. He likewise asked what was the basis of the Philippine Children’s Medical Center (PCMC) in saying the vaccine prices were ‘’reasonable.”
Meanwhile, Rep. Romeo M. Acop (2nd District, Antipolo City) questioned the decision to make PCMC the procuring agency. Acop also noted that the vaccine purchase was not included in the 2015 and 2016 GAAs and in the DOH’s expanded immunization program.
Garin said the PCMC was identified not only as the procuring agency but also the implementer and overseer of the whole program because of its vast expert manpower resource.
Due to the absence of important witnesses, the committee members decided to reserve their questions for the next joint committee hearing. Pimentel tasked the committee secretariat to prepare a strongly worded invitation, compelling all resource persons to attend the next hearing. He also reminded the agencies concerned to submit all documents necessary and relevant to the ongoing investigation.