MANILA - (2ND UPDATE) President Rodrigo Duterte did not order the Public Attorney's Office to share with the Department of Health its findings on the deaths of children administered with Dengvaxia, PAO Chief Persida Acosta said Friday.
"Ang natatandaan ko lang sinabi niya [Duterte] - 'Thank you for your concern in humanity.' Talagang nakakalakas ng loob dahil sinabi niya noon pa do not destroy the youth of this nation," she said in an interview on ANC's Headstart.
Representatives from PAO, the Department of Justice, and Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption met with the president on Thursday to discuss their investigation into the deaths of supposed recipients of the dengue vaccine.
The DOH is hoping to coordinate with PAO, which claimed finding a "pattern" that led to the deaths of at least 5 drug recipients, for tissue samples among the alleged victims, but Secretary Francisco Duque III said Acosta has not been responsive to the department's letters.
Acosta said Duque "should know the answer" why PAO has not been cooperating with the DOH, adding that there's a "conflict of interest."
"He has said the more scientific one is UP-PGH. He (gave) us shabby treatment. Imagine announcing convening another group, wherein Secretary Aguirre, my boss in the department, already issued a department order asking me directing me and the entire PAO to help the victims," she said.
"Why would you let doctors criticizing our office join us? It seems Dr. Duque has trust and confidence in them and not us. Why should we let our doctors be shabbily treated or be maligned," she added.
Acosta said PAO's findings are now public after they filed a civil suit against former and current Health officials in relation to the Dengvaxia controversy, adding that she will attend the next Senate hearing on the issue.
Not even the courts can stop PAO from conducting autopsies on Dengvaxia patients without the consent of the parents, Acosta claimed, "because the owners of the cadavers are the parents."
"That would be obstruction of justice. Justice and truth are interconnected. If there is no truth, there would be injustice," she said.
She said the autopsies are needed because the nationwide dengue vaccination program was done "without consent, screening or even blood tests."
"Pati mga pulis nabakunahan daw," she noted.
During the interview, Acosta denied that her office is spreading fear and panic about Dengvaxia. She blamed drug-maker Sanofi Pasteur for the panic after the firm announced that the vaccine can cause severe symptoms for patients that have not been previously infected with dengue.
"In-announce nila. Naghi-hysteria ang mga magulang kasi andyan na yung rashes, fever, paglaki ng tiyan, pagtatae, pagsusuka," she said.
CONFLICT OF INTEREST?
Acosta also criticized the "conflict of interests" among the experts tapped by the DOH.
She claimed forensics expert Raquel Fortun, who questioned why PAO examined the vaccinated children, was a consultant of the law firm assisting Sanofi Pasteur.
UP-PGH forensic pathologist Dr Maria Cecilia Lim, meanwhile, was Fortun's affiliate, according to Acosta.
"Kaninong interes ba ang pinoproteksyunan nila? Unlike these doctors with us...wala silang conflict of interest. They're not scholars of any pharmaceutical company. They are not advocating that Dengvaxia is okay despite the deaths, despite the warning of Sanofi itself," she said.
Former Health Secretary Esperanza Cabral, who led a group of doctors in asking the Department of Justice to stop PAO from conducting autopsies, was part of the Board of Trustees of the Zuellig Family Foundation, Acosta noted.
Zuellig Pharma is the distributor of Sanofi in the Philippines.
"Saan siya kumukuha ng lakas ng loob at tibay ng paninindigan niya para ipatigil niya ang hustisya?," she said of the former health chief.
Speaking to ANC, Cabral said she was only trying to protect the public when she asked the DOJ to stop PAO from conducting the autopsies.
"We were trying to protect the public because what has happened is that the autopsies being done by the Public Attorney's Office, it was being televised and they are prematurely stating that there was a pattern and a link between the deaths of the kids that they were autopsying and the vaccine," she said.
She also clarified that she is a "proud trustee" of the Zuellig Family Foundation but denied that she received compensation from it or from Zuellig Pharma.
"We received no compensation from Zuellig Family Foundation nor from Zuellig Pharma so I don’t know how it can be said that I have a conflict of interest," she said.
"The only thing I’m doing is, as a private citizen, calling attention to the things happening about the vaccination program in the country," she added.