PAO chief: Why blame us for loss of confidence in vaccines?

Mike Navallo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Oct 15 2018 07:08 PM | Updated as of Oct 15 2018 10:37 PM

PAO chief: Why blame us for loss of confidence in vaccines?

PAO eyes Ubial as state witness in criminal complaints on Dengvaxia 

MANILA (UPDATED) - Public Attorneys Office (PAO) chief Persida Acosta on Monday rejected claims by a London-based research and education institution that the highly politicized response to the Dengvaxia crisis in the Philippines has led to a drop in overall confidence in vaccines.

The London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) last Friday reported that based on a study of 1,500 Philippine participants in 2018, only 32 percent believe vaccines are important, compared to 93 percent who “strongly agreed” in 2015.

It attributed the steep decline to the outrage triggered by the news on the Dengvaxia vaccine and the ensuing political turmoil.

But Acosta disagrees.

“Hindi po pulitika ito. Krimen po ito,” she told reporters after the start of the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) probe into the second batch of alleged Dengvaxia deaths.

(This is not just politics. This is a crime.)

“Sino po ba ang namulitika dito? Kailan po ba itinurok ito? Noong 2016, di ba, before election? O, 2016 election? Sino namulitika dito?"

(Who is politicizing this? When were the Dengvaxia vaccines injected? In 2016, right, before the election? 2016 election? Who is politicizing this?)

Acosta questioned why the government bought 3.5 billion vials of Dengvaxia when on December 22, 2015, Sanofi only recommended that 140,000 be vaccinated.

"Bakit inabot ng halos isang milyong Pilipino ang binakunahan? Sinong namulitika? Sino bang may kasalanan? Sino ba ang bumili ng Dengvaxia? Sino ba ang nag-mass indiscriminate vaccination?" she said.

(Why were almost a million Filipinos inoculated? Who is politicizing this? Who is at fault? Who bought Dengvaxia? Who did mass indiscriminate vaccination?)

"Alangan naman ako, tumutulong lang tayo sa biktima. Tumutulong din ang media para ipaalam na kapag nagkasakit mga anak niyo, dalhin agad sa ospital. Hindi rin kasalanan ng media. Hindi kasalanan ng media, hindi kasalanan ng PAO, sino may kasalanan?” she continued.

(It could not be me, I simply helped the victims. The media also helped to spread awareness that if your children get sick, you have to immediately bring them to the hospital. It can't be blamed on the media as well. It's not the fault of the media, of the PAO. Who's at fault here?)

The second batch is a consolidation of 8 complaints of relatives of victims who allegedly died due to the Dengvaxia vaccine. The complainants are:

- Fausta Gasilla
- Romeo and Virginia Cariño
- Manuel Ramirez, Jr. and Kristina Ramirez
- Erwin and Lyngin Alcantara
- Philip and Leny Leabres
- Nelson and Marivic De Guzman
- Fredeswinda Jajalla-Nimura
- Rowena Villegas. 

A total of 38 respondents are facing multiple charges of reckless imprudence resulting in homicide, torture, and violations of the Consumer Act of the Philippines over the mass vaccination of Dengvaxia. 

Among those charged were former Health Secretary Janette Garin; officials of Sanofi Pasteur, Inc.,maker of Dengvaxia vaccine; and Zuellig Pharma Corporation, its distributor in the Philippines; doctors of the Department of Health and Research Institute for Tropical Medicine, who conducted the clinical trials; and some officers of the Food and Drug Administration, who approved the Dengvaxia vaccine’s certificate of product registration.

Not included on the list are former Health Secretary Paulyn Ubial and current Health Secretary Francisco Duque III, although PAO reserved a slot for the 38th respondent to “other senior government officials (John Does).”

Asked why Ubial was excluded in the list of respondents, Acosta said “Hindi namin sinama dahil nagsabi siya na magte-testify siya as state witness.” (We did not include her because she said she would testify as state witness.)

“Ang state witness, hindi witness for the complainant lang ‘yan. State witness, may kaso ka. Pero magte-testify ka para sa gobyerno,” she said.

(The State witness is not a witness for the complainant. A State witness would still have cases but would testify for the government.)

Both Garin and Duque had previously questioned Ubial’s exclusion from the first batch of 9 complaints. Garin said Ubial authorized the expansion of the vaccination program from being school-based to community-based, weakening the screening and monitoring mechanisms. Duque faulted Ubial for continuing the program despite the red flags.

Acosta said she would leave it up to the DOJ whether to file criminal charges against Ubial as well.

“Bahala na ang panel kung kakasuhan siya o ia-adopt na lang siyang State witness gaya ni Jessica Alfaro. Bahala sila pero nandun ang pangalan niya. At nandun din ang ebidensya ng pag-e-expand niya,” she said.

(The panel would decide if cases would be lodged against her or she would be adopted as a state witness like Jessica Alfaro. It's up to them, but her name is included there. Evidence of expansion under her is also there.)

“Ang tanong naman kay Dr. Garin, sino bang bumili niyan? Si Dr. Ubial ba bumili niyan? Si Ubial ba ang ka-MOA [Memorandum of Agreement] ng Zuellig Pharma at ng Sanofi? Si Ubial ba? Nagtuturuan sila. Ang sama e, nagtuturuan. Aminin na lang ang pagkakamali, para masagip ang mga buhay,” she said.

(We ask Dr. Garin, who bought that? Was it Dr. Ubial? Did she sign the MOA with Zuellig and Sanofi? They're pointing fingers, it's bad. They should just admit their mistake, so that lives could still be saved.)

Acosta is also not absolving Duque from any responsibility.

“Kasi sa panahon ni Secretary Duque, nagpaturok din siya at ang dami na ring patay sa pinaturukan niya. Siya ang head,” she said.

(During Secretary Duque's time, there were also vaccinations and many also died. He was the head.)

Acosta claimed three officials of Sanofi whom PAO named as respondents in their complaints are already in France.

“Papaano pa yun mababalik dito? Buti kung may extradition treaty tayo sa France. Ang alam ko sa Australia, sa US meron. Kaya nga dapat bilisan na 'to. Nang sa gayon, kung meron mang dapat kasuhan dito, e makulong na sila. Buhay ito. Masahol pa sa Holocaust to e,” she said.

(How could they be asked to return here? That could be done if we had an extradition treaty with France. I know we have one with Australia and the US. We have to expedite this so that if there would be people to sue over this, they could be incarcerated. This is about lives. This is worse than the Holocaust.)

An extradition treaty allows a requesting country to take custody of an accused so he/she may face criminal investigations or serve a sentence for a crime committed within the territory of a requesting country.

During the start of the preliminary investigation on Monday, only one complainant was present. The DOJ panel had to set another schedule on Tuesday for 7 other complainants to re-affirm their statements before the newly-formed panel of DOJ prosecutors.

The DOJ panel is composed of Senior Assistant State Prosecutor Susan Dacanay, Assistant State Prosecutors Noel Antay, Jr., Agnes Bagaforo-Arellano II and Jervis Gaspar, and Associate Prosecution Attorney II Magelli Anne Diaz.

Respondents were given until October 29 to file their counter-affidavits.

Acosta said a separate DOJ panel is due to finish its preliminary investigation into the first batch of complaints on October 30 while PAO hopes to file 10 more complaints at the end of the month.