THE HOUSE of Representatives panel will quiz former President Benigno S.C. Aquino III on the realignment of the budget for the purchase of Dengvaxia vaccines as it resumes its inquiry on that controversy on Monday, Feb. 26.
Surigao del Sur Representative Johnny Ty Pimentel, chair of the House committee on good government and public accountability, said in a phone interview that Mr. Aquino has “already communicated with our committee secretary that he will be attending.” The same was confirmed by Mr. Aquino’s executive secretary JC Casimiro.
“The main question would center on who authorized the realignment….(B)ecause we know very well,…wala naman sa (it’s not in the) General Appropriations Act (GAA) of 2015 yung pambili sa (the fund for) Dengvaxia,” Mr. Pimentel said.
At the Feb. 5 hearing held by the good government committee, together with the House committee on health chaired by Quezon Representative Angelina D.L. Tan, Director Cristina B. Clasara of the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) testified that the P3.5-billion funding for the vaccine came from the allotment for miscellaneous personnel benefit funds (MPBF) under the special purpose fund.
Mr. Pimentel said this was a “circumvention” of National Budget Circular No. 599, which provides for guidelines on realigning the budget for the 2015 GAA, as the immunization program is not in the same allotment class as the MPBF. Ms. Clasara, however, said the realignment was possible upon approval by the president.
“’Yun ang sagot nila eh (That’s what I said), ‘As long as this is approved by the President.’ So tinanong namin sila (we asked them), ‘Was it authorized by the President?’ Hindi naman sila makasagot (They could not answer)….So tanungin natin si (So we will ask) Presidente Aquino: did you authorize the realignment?”
Apart from Mr. Aquino, Public Attorney’s Office chief Persida V. Rueda-Acosta, Interior department officer-in-charge Eduardo M. Año, and Education Secretary Leonor M. Briones are also among the resource persons invited to the hearing. Acting Prosecutor General Jorge G. Catalan, Jr. will attend the hearing on behalf of Justice Secretary Vitaliano N. Aguirre II, according to Justice Undersecretary Erickson H. Balmes.
Mr. Pimentel said he hopes to conclude the inquiry by Monday.
“As long as wala nang magreklamo na mga congressmen (As along as the congressmen don’t have anymore questions),…I hope we can already terminate it; we already have all the facts. Kumpleto na ko (I’m done). I can make the committee report,” Mr. Pimentel said. He added that the inquiry could have ended in the last hearing but Buhay party-list Rep. Jose L. Atienza, Jr. motioned to invite Mr. Aquino. — Minde Nyl R. dela Cruz