DOJ excludes testimony of Garin’s expert in Dengvaxia probe

Mike Navallo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Oct 18 2018 03:51 PM

Former Health Secretary Jeanette Garin attends a Senate hearing on the allegedly anomalous project called the Barangay Health Stations implemented by Aquino administration, on July 4, 2018. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

MANILA - A Department of Justice (DOJ) panel of investigating prosecutors handling the first batch of Dengvaxia criminal complaints has denied former Health Secretary Janette Garin’s motion to admit the affidavit of a pathologist as part of its preliminary investigation into the deaths of 9 victims.

In an order dated October 10, 2018, the DOJ panel headed by Senior Assistant State Prosecutor Ma. Emilia Victorio rejected the affidavit of Dr. Raymundo Lo for having been filed late.

The case stemmed from consolidated complaints of relatives of 9 alleged Dengvaxia victims against Garin and 34 others over their involvement in the mass vaccination of Dengvaxia. The case was filed in April.

On September 21, Garin asked the DOJ panel to consider the testimony of Lo, a licensed physician and an expert pathologist specializing in anatomic and clinical pathology, to “shed light on significant medical and significant issues.”

According to Garin’s motion, Lo underwent specialty training in the US and the Philippines for 9 years and has performed and supervised more than a thousand autopsies in his 30-year experience.

In his affidavit, Lo questioned the lack of expertise of Dr. Erwin Erfe, the forensics chief of the Public Attorney’s Office (PAO) who is not a pathologist, as well as the manner by which the autopsies were conducted in front of the media.

“I believe that he [Erfe] is not properly trained in the functions of a pathologist. As such, he is likewise untrained as to the required protocols, procedure and nuances of conducting a proper, correct, and appropriate autopsy examination to determine, diagnose, and uncover the cause of death and presence of diseases during the autopsy procedure, much less whether or not a vaccine is a possible cause of death of the children,” he said.

“I was appalled by Dr. Erfe’s decision to allow media men to film the actual autopsy examination…Not only was the practice inhumane and disrespectful of the dead, it was also dangerous on the part of the media people who were exposed to possible viruses and bacteria that may be present in the dead bodies,” he added.

Lo also cast doubt on the findings of the PAO forensic team linking the deaths of the alleged victims to the Dengvaxia vaccine, calling the conclusion “completely false, unreliable, and absent factual and scientific bases.”

“[I]t is erroneous of Dr. Erfe to conclude that Dengvaxia is the cause of death of the nine (9) children on the basis of a substandard autopsy examination. Our findings, coupled with the clinical course, laboratory, imaging studies and clinical diagnoses, dispel their conclusions and fully support the cause of deaths in the Death Certificates. These are causes of death that are enough for these children to die without having to invoke Dengvaxia vaccination as a cause,” he said.

In response, PAO touted Erfe’s credentials: a medico-legal consultant for 22 years, director of PAO Forensic Laboratory Services for 14 years, and a lawyer who has taught in various medical and law schools. 

Instead, PAO questioned Lo’s ties with the Philippine Children’s Medical Center (PCMC), which allegedly purchased the Dengvaxia
vaccine. Lo served as PCMC’s deputy executive director for professional services for 10 years.

It also rejected Lo’s opinion on the cause of death of the alleged victims saying his findings were based on second-hand information and not on an examination of the medical records nor the bodies and tissues of the victims.

But the DOJ order dismissing Garin’s motion sidestepped the contents of Lo’s affidavit.

Instead, the DOJ panel said the matters raised in the testimony of Lo are evidentiary in nature which are better threshed out in a full-
blown trial before the court and not during preliminary investigation.

A preliminary investigation determines whether there is sufficient ground to believe that a crime has been committed and that the respondent subject of the investigation is probably guilty and should be held for trial.

The panel also faulted Garin for not filing the affidavit immediately, noting that by the time she moved to admit Lo’s affidavit, the parties had already finished exchanging pleadings.

“It is indeed very late in the day for her to submit the affidavit of a witness at this time when she had already filed her Rejoinder-Affidavit. More importantly, there is nothing in the Motion which shows any valid and justifiable reason for the very late submission of Dr. Lo’s affidavit in support of respondent’s defense,” the order said.

The DOJ panel is expected to hold its last hearing on the first batch of Dengvaxia complaints on October 30. Another panel handling the second batch of complaints just started its probe on Monday. 

PAO said it will file a third batch of 10 complaints at the end of the month.

To date, PAO has conducted autopsies of 96 alleged Dengvaxia victims.