House opposition to Duterte: Order Acosta to ‘stop pseudo-forensic intervention’

Bea Cupin
House opposition to Duterte: Order Acosta to ‘stop pseudo-forensic intervention’
The PAO chief had refused to accede to a UP-PGH's panel's request for access to the tissue samples of Dengvaxia-vaccinated children who died

MANILA, Philippines – The House opposition bloc on Tuesday, February 27, called on President Rodrigo Duterte to “intervene” in government’s efforts to investigate the deaths of children who received a now-controversial anti-dengue vaccine amid apparent conflict among different agencies under the executive. 

Magdalo Representative Gary Alejano made the assertion during a press conference, a day after the two House panels wrapped up its probe into the controversial Dengvaxia mass vaccination program. 

“It should be the President who should resolve this problem and command Acosta to cooperate with the UP PGH [University of the Philippines-Philippine General Hospital] experts and the DOH [Department of Health] and to stop her pseudo forensic intervention,” added Albay 1st District Representative Edcel Lagman, Alejano’s ally in the bloc. 

Congress reopened probes into the program after manufacturer Sanofi Pasteur revealed in November 2017 that the vaccine should not be administered on persons who had yet to be infected by the dengue virus, as this could pose greater risks. The announcement was made as a result of a 6-year study and after over 800,000 Filipinos, mostly school children, were administered the vaccine in a mass innoculation program. 

The announcement has triggered fears of the dengue vaccine, and of vaccines in general, prompting the justice department to order the Public Attorney’s Office (PAO) to probe cases of vaccinated children who later on died. The health department later formed a UP-PGH panel to do the same. 

The PAO, citing the findings of its forensic laboratory director Erwin Erfe, has pressed civic cases against health officials and Sanofi personalities over the death of one child. Experts, however, have warned against “wild” claims linked to Dengvaxia.

The UP-PGH panel has thus far been unable to directly link Dengvaxia to deaths in cases they have studied. It has also asked the PAO for tissue samples of the children who died, including those who were exhumed. 

PAO Chief Persida Acosta has declined to share tissue samples with the UP-PGH panel, insisting that the health department has “conflict of interest” because its officials may face cases over the Dengvaxia mess. 

Lagman refuted Acosta’s allegations. “That’s her mere say-so. These experts were tapped by the DOH but they are still experts. The entire body of the DOH is not [being questioned],” he added. 

Caloocan City 2nd District Representative Edgar Erice also expressed concern that the PAO’s findings would eventually compromise cases filed over the vaccine and its alleged effects.

In the case of one child from Caloocan City, said Erice, the autopsy was conducted by Erfe inside the home of the child, where the wake was being held. Lagman noted that the PAO itself admitted that its laboratory was actually a bodega located within their compound.

Lagman said Acosta’s real reason for refusing to hand over tissue samples could be because this would “reveal the real cause of the death of the alleged victims.”

Chairperson Johnny Pimentel of the committee on good government and public had told Acosta to not be “combative”, pointing out that government agencies should be helping each other. –  

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Bea Cupin

Bea is a senior multimedia reporter who covers national politics. She's been a journalist since 2011 and has written about Congress, the national police, and the Liberal Party for Rappler.