MANILA - The chief of the Public Attorney's Office (PAO) explained Monday why she won't collaborate with a panel of experts formed to probe deaths linked to controversial dengue vaccine Dengvaxia.
Lawyer Persida Rueda Acosta pointed out "conflict of interest" within the members of the University of the Philippines-Philippine General Hospital team (UP-PGH).
"E meron pong nagpadala sa akin ng lifestyle magazine, meron po silang conflict of interest," Acosta told lawmakers in a House inquiry on Tuesday.
She said UP-PGH's Dra. Maria Cecilia Lim is a "professional partner" of Dr. Raquel Fortun, a forensic pathologist who she says was hired by a law firm defending Dengvaxia-maker Sanofi Pasteur.
Acosta also showed a press release saying Sanofi's local distributor Zuellig Pharma Corp has plans of constructing a building for UP called "The Dr. Stephen Zuellig building."
The lawyer also questioned recommendations of former Health Secretary Esperanza Cabral on the Dengvaxia probe, given that she is a member of the board of trustees of the Zuellig Foundation.
"May conflict of interest din po siya kaya di ko siya pakikinggan. Ang pakikinggan ko si Secretary Aguirre na may utos po sa akin na tumulong sa mga biktima," said Acosta.
The PAO, representing the family of a kid whose death is linked to Dengvaxia, had already filed a complaint against Sanofi Pasteur, Zuellig Pharma, as well as former and incumbent DOH officials.
UP-PGH: We are independent
Dr. Juliet Sio-Aguilar, head of the UP-PGH team formed by the Health Department, stressed that the Dengue Investigative Task Force is independent.
The doctor said they have been very strict in choosing their members and required that anyone in the team should have no associations with any vaccine company, not only Sanofi.
"We are not in anyway subservient to anyone," she said emphasizing that the group was created to be an independent investigative task force.
Dr. Sio-Aguilar explained they initially wanted to tap Dr. Fortun but she declined as she has already ties with Sanofi. She said Dr. Lim is a colleague of Dr. Fortun but she is not tied to any vaccine firm.
In fact, the doctor said, they also did not allow anyone who was given Degvaxia to be a member of the panel as this could also influence their decisions.