By Vanne Elaine Terrazola
While not discounting his liability, Sen. Joseph Victor Ejercito is still unconvinced that former President Benigno Aquino III has committed graft and corruption over the mess in the government’s dengue immunization program.
Ejercito today said he has signed the committee report released by Sen. Richard Gordon but expressed his reservations on it.
Ejercito chairs of the Senate committee on health and demography which conducted the joint inquiry on the Dengvaxia controversy, along with the Gordon-led Blue Ribbon committee.
On Wednesday, Gordon released an unsigned report of the investigation which supposedly found Aquino guilty of malfeasance, misfeasance and nonfeasance for approving the procurement of P3.5 billion worth of dengue vaccine after meeting with its manufacturer, Sanofi Pasteur. He said the former president, former Budget secretary Florencio Abad, former Health secretary Janette Garin and other officials must be prosecuted over the vaccine mess.
Ejercito, on the other hand, aired his disbelief that Aquino would be able to engage in corruption.
“Hindi ako agree masyado — hindi ako fan ni President Aquino, lagi kaming magkaibang bakod sa pulitika — kaya lang, hindi lang ako naniniwala na he will be involved in any graft and corruption (What I do not really agree with — although I am not a fan of President Aquino and we are always on opposing sides i politics — I don’t believe that he will be involved in any graft and corrupt practices),” Ejercito said in a radio interview this afternoon, adding that he will introduce some amendments into the report when it is deliberated in the plenary.
“Kahit na kami ay hindi magkasundo at hindi niya ako gusto, I have to be fair. Hindi ako naniniwala that President Aquino will be involved in graft and corruption (Even though we are not always in agreeing terms and he does not like me, I have to be fair. I don’ believe that President Aquino will be involved in graft and corruption),” he repeated.
Ejercito however maintained that Aquino still has a liability over the issue, as he agreed with Gordon that the purchase of Dengvaxia was done in haste and without the approval of Congress.
“I think he has liability because of negligence and command responsibility…That P3.5 billion would not have gone through the transaction without his approval,” he said.
Ejercito added that “a bigger issue” was that Aquino had “put at risk the lives of some 800,000 schoolchildren” for allowing the special allotment release order for the purchase of the vaccine.
Besides Aquino, Ejercito said he also thinks that former Health Secretary Paulyn Jean Ubial should not be charged despite expanding the implementation of the immunization program to regions.
He said Ubial was “only pressured” to resume the vaccination pending her confirmation before the Commission on Appointments.
Meanwhile, Sen. Miguel Zubiri had also signed the committee report but did not specify whether or not he agrees with its findings.
“When you sign a committee report, it does not mean that you agree. It is just ministerial, so we could debate on it in the plenary…We will ask questions in the period of interpellation,” Zubiri said in a separate interview also today.
The Senate Blue Ribbon committee has yet to complete the signature of all 17 members since Congress is on recess. Sessions will resume on May 15.
Of the members, Sen. Antonio Trillanes had so far refused to sign the report, saying that the conspiracy was “only in the mind” of Gordon and is only part of a “publicity stunt” against Aquino.