Business World

House to quiz Aquino on Dengvaxia

- — Minde Nyl R. dela Cruz

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-incharge 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 partylist Rep. Jose L. Atienza, Jr. motioned to invite Mr. Aquino.

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