Garin, Duque, DOH execs seek junking of raps over Dengvaxia mess

MANILA Health Secretary Francisco Duque III, his predecessor Janette Garin and 38 others on Monday answered the criminal charges filed against them over the death of several teens who received the anti-dengue vaccine Dengvaxia.

During the continuation of the preliminary investigation at the Department of Justice, Garin, Dr. Lyndon Lee Suy, Dr. Gerardo Bayugo and other former and current health officials as well, with other respondents Sanofi Pasteur and Zuellig Pharma officials, filed and subscribed to their respective counter-affidavits before the DOJ panel, headed by Assistant State Prosecutor Maria Emilia Victorio, who chairs the DOJ panel.

Sanofi Pasteur and Zuellig are the vaccine's manufacturer and distributor, respectively.

They all urged the DOJ to dismiss the complaints for lack of merit.

Duque, who is also a respondent in the case, did not attend the hearing because he already submitted his counter-affidavit and took his oath before a different public prosecutor. He likewise urged the dismissal of the case.

The panel is conducting the preliminary investigation over the criminal complaints filed separately by the families, with the help of the Public Attorney's Office (PAO), over the death of nine children, namely, Aejay Bautista, Anjielica Pestillos, Lenard Baldonado, Zandro Colite, Abbie Hedia, Jansyn Art Bataa, Mark Axel Ebonia, Reijazztine Justin Alimagno, and Alexander Jaime.

Garin, along with Duque and 38 others are facing complaint for reckless imprudence resulting in homicide under Article 365 of the Revised Penal Code (RPC); torture resulting in the death of a person and the torture of a child under Republic Act (RA) No. 9745, also known as the Act Penalizing Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment; obstruction of justice under Section 1(b) of Presidential Decree No. 1829; and violation of Section 3 of RA 3019, the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act.

Duque, together with Santiago and Zamudio as respondents, is facing two criminal complaints. The health chief was also charged with obstruction of justice in a previous complaint.

In her counter-affidavit, Garin sought the dismissal of the complaint for lack of probable cause and for insufficiency of evidence.

Contrary to the malicious, twisted and baseless accusations of the complainants and the corresponding report and recommendation memorandum (Public Attorney's Office Report and Memorandum), the Dengue Immunization Program was implemented after a thorough evaluation process as to its necessity and urgency, as well as the readiness of the government to undertake the same, Garin said.

The decision was backed up with studies that date back to several years, conducted by private and public institutions, both locally and internationally, she added.

She also denied that the program was implemented with undue haste since it was implemented in April 2016, just a month before the May presidential elections.

In implementing the Dengue Immunization Program, we have always acted with the best interest of the people and the government in mind and exercised the diligence required of us as administration of public health; all this while taking into consideration the prevailing circumstances and all the information available to us at the tie, Garin explained.

Garin insisted that she cannot be held liable for reckless imprudence resulting in homicide, considering that the procurement of Dengvaxia underwent thorough process and that its supposed theoretical risks were not yet supported by any data at the time of its implementation.

Thus, she, said there is no basis for PAO, which represents the complainants, that she maliciously and arbitrarily failed to inform the public of the dangers and risks related to the vaccine.

She added that the DOH also issued clear and specific guidelines for the implementation of the school-based immunization program, contrary to PAO's claim that the DOH during her term failed to conduct proper screening of Dengvaxia recipients and other relevant tests to determine whether the children may be inoculated with the vaccine.

In fact, there were students whose immunization was deferred because of existing conditions like fever. This goes to show that the required diligence was observed and nothing was done in haste in the implementation of the dengue immunization program, Garin pointed out.

Furthermore, Garin said the complainants failed to establish that Dengvaxia was indeed the cause of the death of the nine children subject of the complaint.

She noted that based on the PAO report and recommendations, the cause of death of the children was connected to the inoculation of Dengvaxia as forensic examination would show the children suffered from viscerotropic-like disease secondary to Dengvaxia.

But, Garin said PAO's report was contrary to the cause of death written on the death certificates of the children and that the findings of PAO is not supported by medical and scientific evidence.

In all these cases, there is no proof at all that there was any clinical diagnosis of viscerotropism or neurotropism based on the universally accepted Brighton Classification. Without any clinical diagnosis, it cannot be established that any individual has suffered from viscerotropism and neutropism, she explained.

Victorio set the next hearing on July 16, when the complainants will answer the counter-affidavits of the respondents and for the respondents to file their rejoinder on July 27.

This case is separate from the case lodged against former President Benigno Aquino, Garin, former Budget chief Florencio Abad and several former and incumbent officials of the DOH and several others, which is also pending at the DOJ.

The Vanguard of the Philippines, Inc. (VPCI) and Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption (VACC) filed the complaint against the three and several others for possible violation of Section 3 of Republic Act (RA) No. 3019 (Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act); Section 65 of RA 9184 (Government Procurement, Reform Act); Article 220 (Technical Malversation) of the Revised Penal Code; Article 365 (Criminal Negligence) of the Revised Penal Code; and for other violations of the law.

The DOH suspended the vaccination program in December 2017 after Sanofi Pasteur said the vaccine poses risk to those with no prior dengue infection. (With reports from Rachel BaAares/PNA)

Source: Philippine News Agency