Palace: Aquino, Abad not off the hook on Dengvaxia
Presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo noted that Aquino and Abad have been accused of technical malversation, a case different from the reckless imprudence charges filed against former health secretary Janette Garin and nine other former and current health officials.
Palace: Aquino, Abad not off the hook on Dengvaxia
Alexis Romero (The Philippine Star) - March 4, 2019 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — Former president Benigno Aquino III and former budget secretary Florencio Abad are not yet off the hook in relation to the Dengvaxia controversy even if they were not among those indicted over the deaths of children administered the vaccine.

Presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo noted that Aquino and Abad have been accused of technical malversation, a case different from the reckless imprudence charges filed against former health secretary Janette Garin and nine other former and current health officials.

State prosecutors have found probable cause to file eight counts of reckless imprudence resulting in homicide against Garin and the health officials.

Senate Blue Ribbon committee chairman Richard Gordon has questioned why Aquino and Abad were not indicted, noting that the purchase of Dengvaxia – blamed for the deaths of more than 30 children who were given the vaccine – was hastened during the previous administration.

“There’s a separate case on that... With regard to the purchases,  (Aquino and Abad) were charged with technical malversation in another case so they are still part of it,” Panelo said in a radio interview yesterday, adding that it would be up to state prosecutors to determine whether there is probable cause to file cases against the two.

He added that: “It’s the duty of the Palace to implement the law... The court will give justice to those who filed the case. If the charges are proven, they would be punished accordingly.”

Panelo maintained the executive branch would not interfere with the work of the judiciary.

Other health officials indicted over the deaths allegedly caused by Dengvaxia were Vicente Belizario Jr., Kenneth Hartigan-Go, Gerardo Bayugo, Lyndon Lee Suy, Irma Asuncion, Julius Lecciones, Maria Joyce Ducusin, Rosalinda Vianzon and Mario Baquilod.

Also indicted were Socorro Lupisan and Maria Rosario Capeding of the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM); and Carlito Realuyo, Stanislas Camart, Jean Louis Grunwald, Jean Francois Vacherand, Conchita Santos and Jazel Anne Calvo of Dengvaxia manufacturer Sanofi Pasteur Inc.

Prosecutors also recommended four counts of reckless imprudence resulting in homicide against Ma. Lourdes Santiago and Melody Zamudio of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Prosecutors said Garin and other respondents have exhibited “inexcusable lack of precaution and foresight” because of the “undue haste” in procuring and implementing the immunization program.


Meanwhile,the Public Attorney’s Office (PAO) yesterday welcomed Garin’s indictment along with other health officials over the deaths of children that were administered with the Dengvaxia vaccine.

PAO chief Persida Rueda–Acosta said they see the Department of Justice (DOJ) findings of criminal liability against Garin and company as a vindication to the agency’s pursuit of cases for the victims and their families.

She believed that the filing of the reckless imprudence resulting in homicide case has also disproven the insinuations of Garin and Health Secretary Francisco Duque III that the PAO should be blamed for the public’s vaccine scare that supposedly led to the measles outbreak.

“We feel vindicated by the findings of the DOJ. Our tireless efforts for the families of victims have paid off,” Acosta stressed in an interview. “This is proof that we did not create the vaccine scare of measles outbreak. It was precisely this criminal liability of Garin, as established in the preliminary investigation of the DOJ, that tainted the public’s trust in vaccines. It was this indiscriminate mass vaccination and under-distribution of safe vaccines that caused the alleged scare and outbreak.”

The PAO chief is confident that DOJ prosecutors would be able to establish the guilt of the accused in a court trial, citing overwhelming evidence gathered by her office.

She rebutted Garin’s claim that the direct link of the Dengvaxia vaccine to the deaths of its recipients had not been scientifically established, which could be basis for dismissal of the cases in courts.

“That’s not true. There is medical link and we were able to establish that in the DOJ preliminary investigation. A study by the DOJ RITM showed that four deaths were caused by Dengvaxia and 62 percent of serious adverse effects were caused by the vaccine. They already knew the high risks in conducting the mass immunization of Dengvaxia without blood test and screening and yet they still proceeded with it,” she pointed out.

Although happy with the DOJ finding, Acosta did not agree with the dismissal of charges against Duque and other health officials and executives of Zuellig Pharma.

“We will file a partial motion for reconsideration of the DOJ resolution with respect to the findings on Duque and Zuellig officials. There were over 10 deaths during the term of Duque when he pursued the immunization program in November 2017. He deliberately ignored the documented warnings of the Filipino experts as early as March 2016,” she argued.

The DOJ resolution released last week, however, only covered eight cases in the first batch of Dengvaxia cases filed so far by the PAO.

The DOJ is expected to release another resolution on the second batch of cases involving eight more deaths, while it is still conducting preliminary hearings on 13 other cases.

In the 127-page resolution by the investigating panel led by Senior Assistant State Prosecutor Ma. Emilia Victorio, the DOJ found probable cause in the complaints filed by PAO and approved the indictment of Garin and nine other DOH officials for eight counts of reckless imprudence resulting in homicide.

The DOJ panel said it found “Garin and the other respondents to have exhibited ‘inexcusable lack of precaution and foresight’ when they facilitated, with undue haste, ‘the registration and purchase of Dengvaxia’ and used the vaccine in implementing a school-based dengue mass immunization program.”

It also said that Garin and the other respondents reportedly circumvented various regulations in the purchase of P3.5 billion worth of the anti-dengue vaccine that constituted proof of their reckless imprudence.

The DOJ panel said that at the time of purchase, the Dengvaxia vaccine was reportedly not yet listed in the Philippine National Drug Formulary (PNDF). A purchase request for the vaccine was only made in March 2016.
It was also learned that clinical trials for Dengvaxia were not yet completed when it was purchased and rolled out for use in the mass immunization program. But, despite the ongoing clinical trials, the FDA reportedly approved the vaccine’s registration.

Sanofi, on the other hand, reportedly submitted its application for the registration of Dengvaxia in January 2015. By December 2015, the FDA approved the marketing of Dengvaxia and issued its product registration, well before completion of the two clinical trials.

Thereafter, Garin and the other respondents allegedly fast-tracked its exemption from the PNDF-listing requirement, purchased the vaccines and used it to vaccinate school children through the government’s mass immunization program.

It added that Sanofi failed to monitor and did not conduct close surveillance of the Dengvaxia recipients, nor did it extend any medical assistance to the victims or their families even after reports of serious adverse reactions surfaced.

The DOJ panel also mentioned that if Garin and other respondents would be penalized, they could be imprisoned for six years. – With Edu Punay

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