DOJ taps PAO to aid Dengvaxia victims

By Christopher Lloyd Caliwan

December 19, 2017, 4:53 pm

MANILA -- Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II ordered the Public Attorneys Office (PAO) to provide free legal assistance to the victims that will file possible criminal charges against those involved in the controversial PHP3.5-billion dengue vaccine project of the Department of Health (DOH).

In his Department Order No. 792 issued Dec. 12, Aguirre ordered PAO Chief Atty. Persida Acosta to “extend free legal assistance in civil, criminal, and administrative cases to all possible victims of Dengvaxia related injuries, illness and deaths.”

In a press conference, Acosta presented the parents of 10-year-old Anjielica Pestilos and 11-year-old Christine Mae De Guzman, who both died due to severe dengue months after receiving a shot of the world’s first dengue vaccine.

Acosta who accompanied the victims met Secretary Aguirre in the Department of Justice (DoJ).

Earlier, Aguirre ordered National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) Director Dante Gierran to “conduct investigation and case build-up over the alleged danger to public health arising from the PHP3.5 billion anti-dengue vaccination drive of the DOH and Sanofi Pasteur and if evidence so warrants, to file appropriate charges thereon.”

Aguirre required the NBI to submit a status report on their investigation regarding the issue, adding that he did not give the NBI a timeframe on their probe.

He said the probe would look into whether government officials should be held liable for the seemingly rushed procurement of the vaccine and immunization of more than 700,000 children.

Aguirre admitted that among those who would be investigated for possible culpabilities is former President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III, who gave the go-signal for the DOH to proceed with the vaccination project in 2016.

Also expected to be investigated is then Health Secretary Janette Garin who insisted on implementing the project despite strong objections from medical experts due to lack of certification from the World Health Organization (WHO).

Pharmaceutical firm Sanofi Pasteur recently issued an advisory to the public that its product Dengvaxia is effective for people who have had dengue prior to immunization but creates a risk of a "severe" case of dengue for people who have not yet had dengue.

Prior to this, Philippine health officials is now under fire for obviously acting in undue by allowing the country to be the first Asian country to approve the vaccine for individuals aged 9 to 45 years old in December 2015. (PNA)