Duque defends Dengvaxia probe despite work history with Garin

Jamaine Punzalan, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jan 09 2018 04:41 PM | Updated as of Jan 09 2018 05:59 PM

MANILA - Health Secretary Francisco Duque III on Tuesday asserted the impartiality of his agency's investigation into a dengue vaccination campaign even as he admitted to having once worked for Janette Garin, who rolled out the program. 

"We will not cover up. Why should we cover up when we want to ferret out the truth?" Duque said in a phone interview with ABS-CBN News website. 

Garin, the Health chief of the previous Aquino administration, facilitated the inoculation of some 800,000 children with the dengue vaccine Dengvaxia in 2016. 

The government suspended the program late last year after French drug maker Sanofi disclosed that the Dengvaxia may worsen dengue if given to those who have not had the mosquito-borne disease before. 

Persida Rueda-Acosta, head of the Public Attorney's Office (PAO), raised doubts that Duque can investigate the issue, saying Garin tapped him in 2015 to head a committee that will screen her employees for possible promotion. 

"Nagtatanong ako sa sarili ko, bakit ang bagal ng pagkilos e buhay ang habol dito. Hindi puwedeng lip service ito... Hindi lang theoretical, dapat may praktical, aktwal na paggawa ," she told DZMM. 

(I wonder why the response is so slow when lives are at stake. You cannot pay lip service here. There should be a practical, actual response, not just theoretical.) 

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Duque, for his part, said Garin invited him to lead the personnel selection board after he retired as chairman of the Civil Service Commission. She had banked on his expertise in vetting public officials, he said. 

"It was a purely professional engagement and it was pro bono," he said, adding that his committee had nothing to do with the P3.5 billion Dengvaxia program. 

He also rejected Acosta's claim that Sanofi has ties with some of the health experts that government asked to look into alleged deaths related to the vaccine. 

"Nagpapirma kami ng disclosure of conflict of interest, pumirma naman silang lahat. We took it in good faith that they have no links to Sanofi," he said.