DOJ drops libel raps in Dengvaxia mess

MANILA The Department of Justice (DOJ) has dismissed libel complaints filed by former Department of Health (DOH) Secretary Janette Garin and her husband Iloilo Rep. Oscar Garin, Jr. against former Health Secretary Paulyn Ubial and other DOH officials in connection with the Dengvaxia anti-dengue vaccine issue.

In a 10-page resolution dated Sept. 12 but released to reporters Wednesday, signed by Senior Assistant State Prosecutor Lilian Doris Alejo and approved by Acting Prosecutor General Richard Anthony Fadullon, state prosecutors said that malice, one of the elements in the crime of libel, was not proven.

Aside from Ubial, likewise cleared by the DOJ were former DOH consultant Dr. Francisco Cruz, Dr. Anthony Leachon and former DOH Undersecretary Dr. Teodoro Herbosa.

It can be said that the respondents who were very vocal in their objections in the administration of the Dengvaxia vaccine, and concerned about its effects in the human body, had acted out these sense of justice, thus negating actual malice, the resolution explained.

Garin's camp filed 10 libel complaints in Iloilo, Quezon City and Manila against Ubial and several others in connection with their testimonies before the Senate during its investigation on the Dengvaxia controversy.

The former DOH chief claimed that the respondents gave information during the Senate investigation which was allegedly malicious, damaging, and offensive to them.

The complainants cited Cruz's accusation that Garin and several other officials belong to a mafia that allegedly benefitted from the PHP3.55-billion anti-dengue vaccine Dengvaxia and other anomalous projects.

Garin's husband, on the other hand, said Ubial should be held liable for libel for accusing him of influencing the members of the Commission on Appointments so that her appointment would not be confirmed.

Ubila further claimed that it was the solon who pressured her to buy more dengue vaccines and to put more funds in the 2018 budget.

The DOJ addes that malice is a term used to indicate the fact that the offender is prompted by personal ill-will or spite and speaks not in response to duty, but merely to injure the reputation of the person defamed.

Ubial claimed their statements were meant to educate the public as the issues are clearly imbued with the highest public interest because the said drug administered to the children affected their health, thus, no malice was intended.

They added that their statements made before the Senate inquiry constitute absolute privilege communication, as well as the constitutional provisions which guarantees freedom of speech and expression.

In toto, respondents commonly raised the issue of freedom of expression and freedom of speech. To date, freedom of expression and freedom of speech had gained so much 'parameters' that even the highest ranking officials of the government would invoke the same, the DOJ said.

Garin and other former and incumbent health officials are facing criminal charges before the DOJ filed by the parents and relatives of school children who allegedly died due to complications after they were given the Dengvaxia vaccine.

Likewise named respondents in the complaint were officials of vaccine manufacturer Sanofi Pasteur and its distributor Zuellig Pharma. Sanofi Pasteur admitted that the vaccine may cause more severe dengue symptoms if given to individuals who have never contracted dengue.

The firm has, however, asserted that there was no proof yet that Dengvaxia had caused the dengue deaths.

The Dengvaxia vaccine program was launched during the administration of former President Benigno Aquino III when Garin was DOH chief.

At least 800,000 children were administered with the vaccine but the program was suspended last year. (PNA)

Source: Philippine News Agency