DOH chief faces obstruction of justice rap over Dengvaxia mess

MANILA A family assisted by the Public Attorney's Office (PAO) on Tuesday filed an obstruction of justice complaint before the Department of Justice (DOJ) against Health Secretary Francisco Duque III over the death of a teenager inoculated with the controversial anti-dengue vaccine Dengvaxia.

The parents of 13-year-old Abbie Hedia from Muntinlupa City accompanied by Public Attorney's Office chief Persida Rueda-Acosta has already filed a complaint for reckless imprudence resulting in homicide under Article 365 of the Revised Penal Code and violation of Republic Act No. 9745 (Anti-Torture Act) against Duque and 36 others, including former Health Secretary Janette Garin.

Acosta said Duque was included in the complaint because Hedia was given Dengvaxia shots in November 2017, under his term as current DOH chief.

In the complaint, the Hedia couple said Duque refused to share the master list of children inoculated with Dengvaxia to the PAO, which was tapped by the DOJ to conduct fact-finding investigation and build cases from the immunization program, through issuance of Administrative Order No. 2018-0011.

"There is no doubt that Sec. Duque is effectively and willfully suppressing, and concealing the records of the victims and the cadavers of the deceased victims - a matter that is subject to criminal investigations by several government agencies including PAO," read the 19-page complaint.

The Hedia couple also cited as evidence the AO No. 2018-0007 and 2018-0147 issued by Duque that allegedly further prevented PAO from effectively investigating the cases of deaths.

The first order required that autopsy of victims be conducted by DOH teams while the second one provided for PHP50,000 benefits for each family of victims through the department's Public Assistant Unit (PAU) that reportedly caused confusion, especially to victims being assisted by the PAO.

"He (Duque) is clearly averting autopsies that may otherwise be conducted by other government or private persons and entities, including and especially that of PAO which has been publicly known as conducting autopsies pursuant to DOJ Department Order No. 792," the complainant further alleged.

The grieving parents also accused Duque of conflict of interest, citing his affiliation with Garin.

Acosta said this conflict of interest should have compelled Duque to inhibit from the investigations on the Dengvaxia controversy.

Acosta decried the reported threat by Duque to file cases of conduct unbecoming against her.

"I hope the good secretary does not take it personally against us. We are just doing our job. And I believe that helping those who need our services in PAO is not conduct unbecoming," she said during the press conference on Tuesday in Manila.

Parents of children who died from the vaccine became emotional and rallied behind Acosta. They said they would fight for the PAO chief, who even took the duty of the DOH of providing assistance to them.

The PAO filed the charges after its forensic teams established that all five victims died of organ failures that could be attributed to the vaccine.

Apart from Garin, those who have been named as respondents in all five complaints are Dr. Socorro Lupisan and Dr. Maria Rosario Capeding of the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM); and other officials of the Department of Health (DOH) who were involved in the purchase of the vaccine, namely, Vicente Belizario Jr., Kenneth Hartigan-Go, Gertardo Bayugo, Lyndon Lee Suy, Irma Ascuncion, Julius Lecciones, Joyce Ducusin, Rosalind Vianzon, and Mario Baguilod.

Vaccine manufacturer Sanofi Pasteur Inc. and distributor Zuellig Pharma Corporation were also included as respondents in each of the complaints.

The corporate directors and officers of Sanofi named in the complaints are Carlito Realuyo, Sanislas Camart, Jean Louis Grunwald, Jean-Francois Vacherand, Conchita Santos, Jazel Anne Calvo, Pearl Grace Cabali, and Marie Esther De Antoni.

While, those from Zuellig are Kasigod Jamias, Michael Becker, Ricardo Romulo, Imran Babar Chugtai, Raymund Azurin, Nilo Badiola, John Stokes Davison, Marc Franck, Ashley Gerard Antonio, Ana Liza Peralta, Rosa Maria Chua, Danilo Cahoy, Manuel Concio III, Roland Goco, and Ma. Visitacion Barreiro.

On Friday, Duque reiterated that he has nothing to do with the implementation of the immunization program involving Dengvaxia dengue vaccine in 2017.

"I have proof to show that I have nothing to do with the implementation and I have nothing to do with continuation. Completely zero," Duque told a press briefing in Manila.

Duque said he was only appointed to the DOH in November 2017, adding that he had no idea then that there was an issue on the dengue immunization program.

"Remember that I only found out the risk associated with this vaccine on November 29, which actually triggered my suspension of Dengvaxia immunization," he added.

Duque said that he is wondering whey PAO did not include former Health Secretary Paulyn Ubial who continued the program.

"She (Ubial) never stopped it. She just continued it," Duque said.

He, however, pointed out that Ubial "is equally liable because she continued it (dengue vaccination program) despite knowing the red flags."

Meanwhile, Duque said he will answer all the charges and will convene DOH Executive Committee (Execom) members on the next steps that they will take.

The Dengvaxia vaccine, manufactured by Sanofi Pasteur, was administered to over 800,000 recipients in schools and in communities in selected regions in the country which have high incidence of dengue cases.

Source: Philippine News Agency

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