CA defers confirmation of DOH chief Duque over Dengvaxia issue

Mara Cepeda
CA defers confirmation of DOH chief Duque over Dengvaxia issue
Senator Gregorio Honasan II says the CA members need more time to assess DOH Secretary Francisco Duque III's plans for the children injected with the risky dengue vaccine

MANILA, Philippines – The Commission on Appointments (CA) deferred voting on the ad interim appointment of Dr Francisco Duque III as Department of Health (DOH) chief, as the members wanted more time to assess his plans to address the Dengvaxia controversy. 

Most of the questions to Duque by the members of the powerful CA on Wednesday, January 31, focused on the DOH’s plans after he suspended the controversial dengue vaccination program

At his confirmation hearing, Duque already detailed the DOH’s 5-year heightened surveillance plan for some 837,000 children who received the the risky vaccine of Sanofi Pasteur through the school-based immunization program launched in April 2016 in the National Capital Region, Central Luzon, and Calabarzon. 

He also said the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation is prepared to shoulder the costs should a vaccinated child be hospitalized due to dengue. 

Duque denied the existence of the alleged “DOH mafia” which supposedly benefitted from Dengvaxia.

Still, CA committee on health chairperson and Senator Gregorio Honasan II said they needed more time to digest Duque’s plans.

We will find out how he plans to proactively address this. Dahil one of the issues raised is hindi naman ito priority noon. Bakit inuna? So dapat prioritization. Ano ba ang immediate threat in terms of disease control and public health management? ’Yon ang mga questions na kailangan [na sagutin],” said Honasan. 

(We will find out how he plans to proactively address this. One of the issues raised is that the dengue vaccination program was not a priority then. So why was it immediately implemented? What are the immediate threats in terms of disease control and public health management? Those are the questions he still needs to answer.)

So mabuti nga na may time si Secretary Duque to process all these so they can respond accordingly (So it’s good that Secretary Duque has more time to process all these so they can respond accordingly),” he added. 

The panel of experts from the University of the Philippines-Philippine General Hospital will also release on Friday, February 2, the results of its study of 14 cases of vaccinated children who later died due to several causes

Duque told the CA the study aims to determine whether Dengvaxia had, in any way, influenced the deaths. 

Apart from DOH’s plans for the vaccinees, Honasan said the CA would like Duque to clarify his plans on accrediting experts studying key health concerns. 

This was after CA majority leader and Senator Vicente Sotto III questioned why the Public Attorney’s Office is exhuming bodies of vaccinated children and doing their own forensic examination. 

It was an initiative by the PAO and the Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption, but Duque already met with them in an effort to coordinate probes into the Dengvaxia controversy. 

Duque’s oppositors 

Meanwhile, 3 individuals opposed Duque’s appointment.  They were Dr Nestor Dizon Jr, Anti-Trapo Movement of the Philippines chairperson Leon Peralta, and David Diwa. 

Only Dizon and Peralta were present on Wednesday. 

Dizon discussed issues over his employment at the Quezon City government, which he said he had raised to the Civil Service Commission (CSC) back when Duque was still its chair. 

Peralta, meanwhile, brought up the 2011 technical malversation charges previously filed against Duque, former president and now Pampanga 2nd District Representative Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, and other officials over the alleged misuse of over P530 million in funds of the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration.

The Ombudsman, however, already dismissed the complaint in 2012. 

Peralta also raised the Supreme Court’s ruling in 2015 that voided an executive order of Arroyo giving then-CSC chairperson Duque ex-officio positions in various government-owned and controlled corporations.

By this time, however, Duque was no longer with the CSC and was instead at the tail-end of his term as Arroyo’s DOH chief. – Rappler.com

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Mara Cepeda

Mara Cepeda specializes in stories about politics and local governance. She covers the Office of the Vice President, the Senate, and the Philippine opposition. She is a 2021 fellow of the Asia Journalism Fellowship and the Reham al-Farra Memorial Journalism Fellowship of the UN. Got tips? Email her at mara.cepeda@rappler.com or tweet @maracepeda.