By Hannah Torregoza
Senate minority leader Franklin Drilon said he does not concur with the findings of the Senate blue ribbon committee that former President Benigno Aquino III and his officials are liable for the Dengvaxia controversy.
In a letter to Sen. Richard Gordon, chair of the blue ribbon panel, Drilon said he has cast his dissenting vote to the draft committee report holding Aquino, former budget secretary Florencio “Butch” Abad and ex-health chief Janette Garin, among others, liable for possible graft charges after pursuing the P3.5-billion procurement of the controversial anti-dengue vaccine.
“Upon careful review of the draft report, I would like to inform you that I disagree with its findings, conclusions and recommendations,” Drilon said in the letter on Thursday.
“Thus, in accordance with Rule XI, Section 24 of the Rules of the Senate, I am formally entering my objection thereto, and submitting herewith my dissenting vote,” he added.
The senator said that as an ex-officio member of the committees that conducted the inquiry on the Dengvaxia controversy, he is duty-bound to consider all available evidence before making any conclusion.
He also warned against selecting segments of evidence to fit the desired conclusion while hiding or ignoring those that tend to refute it.
“We found no conclusive scientific evidence to support the conclusion that any of the reported deaths were in any way connected to Dengvaxia,” said Drilon in his 30-page dissenting vote, as he pressed for the matter to be studied by “qualified pathologists.”
Drilon said he found no basis for the committee’s recommendation to file charges against the former President and his officials for violation of the Revised Penal Code, R.A. No. 3019 or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act, Civil Code and Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
The opposition senator said declaring certain personalities guilty at this point would not only be premature but “would also reinforce impressions of the politicization of a legitimate public health concern that must be addressed in a clinical manner.”
“However, if and when it is indubitably established that Dengvaxia is the proximate cause of the deaths in question, all those involved should be made to account – without exception,” he said.
Drilon also emphasized that Dengvaxia was administered to 280,000 children during the Aquino administration but was expanded to 400,000 during President Duterte’s administration and then Health Secretary Paulyn Ubial’s term.
Drilon also explained that for Aquino to be held liable for felony two elements must be present: an intentional felony was committed, and that the wrong done to the aggrieved party be the direct, natural and logical consequence of the felony committed by the offender.
But for an intentional felony to exist, Drilon said the person should have acted by means of dolo or with malice. “Absent criminal intent, there can be no felony. Malice, however, is negated by good faith,” he said.
“The first element – that an intentional felony was committed is conspicuously absent. It is clear that President Aquino did not act with malice or dolo in procuring the vaccine.” Drilon stressed.
He also pointed out that the Philippine General Hospital (PGH) Investigative Task Force and the statements of noted dengue expert Dr. Scott Halstead contradicted the report’s conclusion linking the reported deaths of several children to Dengvaxia, stressing, “there is no proof that Dengvaxia was the proximate cause of the children’s deaths.”
Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV, who earlier also said he won’t sign the report said he is standing pat on his belief the report is nothing else but Gordon’s “publicity stunt.”
Trillanes also echoed Drilon’s point that the report did not detail any scientific evidence yet that the deaths of the victims were linked to Dengvaxia and merely relied on the Public Attorney’s Office (PAO), led by lawyer Persida Acosta, recommendation.
“So si Atty. Persida Acosta na ngayon ang eksperto? Eh di malaki problema ng Pilipinas niyan,” Trillanes pointed out in an interview.
Currently, at least 10 senators have signed the report but majority of those who signed are against the recommendation to sue the former leader.
Those who have signed include Gordon, Senators Juan Miguel “Migz” Zubiri, Joseph Victor “JV” Ejercito, Emmanuel “Manny” Pacquiao, Grace Poe, Nancy Binay, Sherwin Gatchalian, Gregorio Honasan II, Vicente “Tito” Sotto II and Ralph Recto.
Aside from Trillanes and Drilon, Sen. Panfilo “Ping” Lacson also refused to sign the report.