DOJ junks libel raps vs Ubial over Dengvaxia mess

Mike Navallo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Oct 17 2018 07:52 AM | Updated as of Oct 17 2018 09:21 AM

Former Health Secretaries Janette Garin and Paulyn Ubial. File

MANILA - The Department of Justice has tossed out the libel complaints against former Health Secretary Paulyn Ubial and other agency officials in in connection with the Dengvaxia vaccine mess.

In a 10-page joint resolution, Senior Assistant State Prosecutor Lilian Doris Alejo recommended the dismissal of 10 libel complaints filed in Iloilo, Quezon City and Manila due to lack of “malice,” an element in the crime of libel, as the allegedly libelous statements were made “out of the sense of justice.”

The resolution dated September 12, 2018 was approved by Senior Deputy State Prosecutor and OIC-Prosecutor General Richard Anthony Fadullon.

Dr. Francisco Cruz, a former Department of Health consultant, was tagged in the complaint for claiming that Garin and several officials allegedly belonged to a “mafia” inside the agency and benefited from P3.5-billion Dengvaxia scheme.

Also tagged were health reform advocate Dr. Anthony Leachon and former DOH executive Dr. Teodoro Herbosa.

WHAT WENT BEFORE

Former Health Secretary Janette Garin lodged the libel complaints in Iloilo against Ubial, her successor, for allegedly insinuating that corruption took place in the anti-dengue vaccination scheme under the previous Aquino administration.

Garin's husband, Iloilo Rep. Oscar Garin, Jr., also filed a libel complaint against Ubial for claiming that he pressured her to buy more Dengvaxia doses and that his wife blocked the confirmation of her appointment to President Rodrigo Duterte's cabinet.

Meanwhile, Dr. Julius Lecciones, Dr. Lyndon Lee Suy, Dr. Mario Villaverde, Maria Carolina Vidal-Taino and other DOH officials filed separate libel complaints against Cruz in Manila and Quezon City over allegations that they were part of the DOH mafia.
 
In their defense, Ubial, Cruz, Leachon and Herbosa said their statements were meant to “educate the public as the issues are clearly imbued with the highest public interest” because Dengvaxia was administered to children.
 
They also argued that statements made during the Senate hearing on Dengvaxia constitute “absolute privilege[d] communication” and they are entitled to freedom of speech and expression.

Under the Revised Penal Code, defamatory statements are presumed malicious except in cases such as statements made during legislative proceedings, which are considered “absolute privileged communication.”

DOJ DECISION

In resolving the complaints, the DOJ found the Dengvaxia-related statements were not malicious. It said that based on cases decided by the Supreme Court, there must be personal ill-will or spite in order to constitute malice.

“While there is no established link of the effect of the said drug [Dengvaxia] to the human body, it appears that there were already some protests/studies/comments from medical practitioners relative to the administration of this vaccine to the human body. Thus, there is this general outrage when many defenseless school children died,” the DOJ resolution said.

“It can then be said that the respondents who were very vocal in their objections in the administration of Dengvaxia vaccine, and concerned about its effects in the human body, had acted out of the sense of justice, thus negating actual malice,” it added.

Garin and other health officials are currently facing before the DOJ 17 complaints filed by relatives of children who allegedly died due to the administration of the Dengvaxia vaccine. The complaints are under preliminary investigation.
 
French drug maker Sanofi Pasteur had bared in November 2017 that the vaccine may cause more severe dengue symptoms if given to individuals who have never contracted dengue.

The firm has, however, asserted that there was no proof yet that Dengvaxia had caused the dengue deaths.

Garin, who was DOH chief during the administration of President Benigno Aquino III, spearheaded government's dengue vaccination program, where some 830,000 children were immunized with Dengvaxia.

The campaign was suspended in December last year, and the drug was pulled out from the market.