Duque silent as Garin sues Ubial for Dengvaxia mess

MANILA, Philippines – As two former health secretaries locked horns on the Dengvaxia controversy, Department of Health (DOH) Secretary Francisco Duque III said he would leave it to the courts to decide who should be held liable for the now-suspended immunization program.

Former Health Secretary Janette Garin accused her successor Paulyn Ubial of reckless imprudence that resulted in homicide in a case filed before the Department of Justice last September 17. (READ: Garin sues Ubial for homicide in implementing Dengvaxia program)

Asked for his response to the matter, Duque told Rappler: “The courts will decide. It is not for me to decide on the merits of the case.”

Duque also added all the facts on the issue were already laid bare. Probes were sought in the previous months by lawmakers in Congress regarding the events and issues surrounding the Dengvaxia controversy.

What did Garin accuse Ubial of? In a complaint-affidavit, Garin said Ubial’s “reckless” handling of the now-suspended Dengvaxia dengue vaccine immunization program “was the only possible cause of reported deaths.”

She said Ubial’s decision to expand the immunization program to communities “contributed” to deaths of students supposedly linked to the risky dengue vaccine. (READ: No need to panic over Dengvaxia-linked deaths – Duque, UP-PGH experts)

The DOH’s school-based immunization program was launched in April 2016 under then-Secretary Garin. But after Ubial assumed the post as health chief in July 2016, the DOH also sanctioned community-based immunization programs through its Memorandum No. 2017-0210 and Memorandum No. 2017-0326.

Health experts questioned the "rushed" implementation of the mass vaccination program as it could pose risks to Filipinos since studies on its safety were still being conducted at the time. (TIMELINE: Dengue immunization program for public school students)

During Senate probes into the Dengvaxia controversy, Ubial said lawmakers “pressured” her to continue the dengue vaccination program, which she had long opposed.

Garin along with other former DOH officials face criminal and graft complaints for their involvement in the Dengvaxia mess.

Over 800,000 students received the Dengvaxia vaccine before Duque suspended the program in December 2017. – Rappler.com 

Sofia Tomacruz

Sofia Tomacruz covers foreign affairs, the overseas Filipino workers, and elections. She also writes stories on the treatment of women and children. Follow her on Twitter @sofiatomacruz. Email her at sofia.tomacruz@rappler.com.