DOJ affirms dismissal of libel raps vs Ubial, other ex-Health officials

Mike Navallo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jan 23 2019 06:54 PM

The DOJ has affirmed its earlier ruling dismissing libel charges filed against former Health Secretary Paulyn Ubial (center) and others over statements in the media of an alleged DOH "mafia." File/Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

MANILA—The Department of Justice has affirmed its earlier ruling dismissing libel charges filed against former Health Secretary Paulyn Ubial and other former agency officials over statements in the media of an alleged DOH "mafia."

In a 2-page ruling dated January 8, 2019, Senior Assistant State Prosecutor Lilian Doris Alejo said there was no compelling reason to alter or modify the agency's joint resolution dated September 12, 2018, which absolved Ubial, former DOH consultant Francisco Cruz, former DOH executive Teodoro Herbosa and health reform advocate Dr. Anthony Leachon of libel. 

The same resolution also junked a cyber libel complaint filed by former Health Secretary Janette Garin against Cruz. 

Cruz and Leachon alleged that a mafia existed within the DOH and benefited from the P3.5-billion purchase of the Dengvaxia vaccine. 

Ubial was sued for supposedly insinuating that corruption took place in the administration of the Dengvaxia vaccine and for claiming Garin's husband, Rep. Oscar Garin, Jr., allegedly pressured her into buying more dengue vaccines.

Besides the Garins, former and current Health officials Dr. Julius Lecciones, Dr. Lyndon Lee Suy, Dr. Mario Villaverde, Maria Carolina Vidal-Taino and others filed separate libel complaints. 

The DOJ earlier found no malice in the statements of the respondents, saying they acted out of a sense of justice in speaking out against the Dengvaxia vaccine. Malice is a key element of libel.

In denying the motions for reconsideration filed by some of the complainants, the DOJ said the lack of details in the respondents' statements regarding the alleged mafia doesn't make the statements libelous.

"We reiterate, in the alleged 'mafia' allegedly existing in the DOH and the alleged 'conversion scheme,' complainants failed to point out the specific offense (i.e., their alleged participation) in the alleged libelous statement made against them. Respondents made a 'sweeping' statement of an alleged 'mafia' and 'conversion scheme' without giving the necessary details. Hence, the offense of libel could not be imputed without these 'necessary' details," the DOJ resolution said.

Garin and other health officials are currently facing before the DOJ 30 complaints of reckless imprudence resulting in homicide, and violations of the Anti-Torture Act and the Consumer Act filed by relatives of children who allegedly died due to the administration of the Dengvaxia vaccine. The complaints are under preliminary investigation.