Congressman tells Acosta: ‘Don’t be combative,’ cooperate with DOH

MANILA, Philippines – A ranking member of the House of Representatives told Public Attorney’s Office (PAO) chief Persida Acosta to refrain from making baseless accusations against the health department and other experts probing the Dengvaxia mess. 

Chairperson Johnny Pimentel of the committee on good government and public accountability interpellated Acosta on Monday, February 26, as the House resumed its probe into the now-suspended dengue vaccination program.

He was asking Acosta whether or not PAO was amenable to sharing with the Department of Health (DOH) the findings of PAO's forensic examination of 26 young vaccinees, but Acosta started getting agitated. 

The exchange began when DOH Undersecretary Enrique Domingo confirmed to Pimentel that experts from the University of the Philippines-Philippine General Hospital (UP-PGH) were currently assessing clinical records of 39 kids who died after getting vaccinated with Sanofi Pasteur’s dengue vaccine to find out if their deaths were linked to the dengue vaccine.

The DOH tapped the UP-PGH expert panel to do this independent study. 

Acosta interjected, hitting the DOH and UP-PGH for not publicly naming the kids whose clinical records they were studying.

She also complained that DOH-run hospitals are requiring parents who approached PAO to submit proper identification before they can secure their children’s clinical records. 

Sir, 'yong sa amin po, ina-announce namin sa media ang pangalan. 'Yong sa DOH ho unknown kasi,” said Acosta, who kept on pointing her index finger in Domingo’s direction. 

(Sir, in our study, we always announce the names [of the victims] to the media. The victims that the DOH claims [to be studying] are unknown.)

Hindi po namin malaman kung 'yong sa amin talaga kasali sa kanila…. Sa PAO po, sinisikap namin na maging complete ang forensic exam. Sa kanila po, wala silang tissue [samples],” she said.

(We don’t know if the cases they are studying already include the ones we are reviewing…. In PAO, we are striving to finish the forensic exam. They, on the other hadn, don’t have tissue samples.)

Pimentel then asked the PAO chief if they would be sharing the tissue samples they had obtained so far. 

Eh ayaw po ng mga magulang kasi sila [sa DOH] po ang nagbakuna sa mga anak nila eh! Sir, 'di ko po isasanla ang aking kaluluwa!” exclaimed Acosta. 

(The parents don’t want to share with them because it was the DOH that vaccinated their children [in the first place]! Sir, I won't sell my soul!)

At this point a loud groan could be heard from the crowd, mostly composed of legislators, their staff, and journalists.

Pimentel calmly told Acosta she was invited to the hearing so PAO and DOH could complement their efforts. 

“Attorney, that is yet to be established. That is why we called you to this hearing because we want proper coordination between the two of you because you’re both government agencies…. We cannot just accuse them of being biased. We want to know the truth,” Pimentel said in a mix of English and Filipino.

DOH Secretary Francisco Duque III had long wanted to complement efforts with PAO and the Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption. 

However, Acosta had refused to cooperate, saying there was a conflict of interest since DOH was the department that implemented the now-suspended dengue vaccination program. 

‘Don’t be combative’

Pimentel also asked Acosta if PAO’s forensic team had finished its examination. 

Instead of answering with a yes or a no, Acosta slammed the UP-PGH expert panel. 

Acosta said that, apart from their forensic pathologist Erwin Erfe,  pathologists from the Ospital ng Maynila Medical Center are also conducting the forensic examination for PAO.

Hindi lang naman ho patholigsts ng UP ang magaling sir, in fairness! 100 million Filipinos po tayo!” said Acosta. (UP pathologists aren't the only good ones, sir, in fairness! There are 100 million Filipinos!) 

Pimentel then told Acosta to calm down.

“Yes, but Attorney Acosta, don’t be combative. We are here to help one another. That’s why I said earlier you shouldn’t fight. You are both government agencies…. We are not doing this investigation so you can fight with PGH,” he said. 

UP-PGH has finished its assessment of 14 vaccinees' deaths so far. Three of them died of dengue despite getting the vaccine that was supposed to prevent it. The experts, however, do not have evidence yet if Dengvaxia influenced the deaths. – Rappler.com

Mara Cepeda

Mara Cepeda writes about politics and women’s rights for Rappler. She covers the House of Representatives and the Office of the Vice President. Got tips? Send her an email at mara.cepeda@rappler.com or shoot her a tweet @maracepeda.

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