DOH to reorganize leadership after Dengvaxia mess

Mara Cepeda
DOH to reorganize leadership after Dengvaxia mess

LeAnne Jazul

Health Secretary Francisco Duque III says the reorganization is meant to 'preserve the integrity of ongoing investigations and to prevent any potential undue influence on their findings'

MANILA, Philippines – Several top-ranking officials of the Department of Health (DOH) will be reassigned to other offices pending ongoing probes into the controversial dengue vaccination program.

Who are involved: Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said on Wednesday, February 28, that “certain undersecretaries, assistant secretaries, and directors” will be reassigned to different posts by next week. 

He said this is “in light of investigations concerning high-ranking officials of the department.”

“I am reassigning certain undersecretaries, assistant secretaries, and directors of the Department of Health in order to preserve the integrity of ongoing investigations and to prevent any potential undue influence on their findings,” said the DOH chief. 

Duque did not name the officials.

Why they are being reassigned:  Weeks before, former health consultant-turned-whistleblower Francis Cruz alleged that 19 former and current DOH officials are conducting mafia-like operations in the department.

Cruz claims the following officials, led by ex-health chief Janette Garin, supposedly benefitted from the implementation of the now-suspended dengue immunization program the latter launched in April 2016:

  • Retired undersecretary Nemesio Gako
  • Resigned undersecretary Kenneth Hartigan-Go
  • Resigned undersecretary Vicente Belizario Jr
  • Former head executive assistant Yolanda Oliveros
  • Former DOH Office of the Secretary consultant Linda Milan
  • Undersecretary Carol Taiño
  • Undersecretary Gerardo Bayugo
  • Undersecretary Lilibeth David
  • Undersecretary Mario Villaverde
  • Assistant Secretary Nestor Santiago
  • Assistant Secretary and DOH spokesperson Lyndon Lee Suy
  • Financial management service director Larry Cruz
  • Family health office officer-in-charge Joyce Ducusin
  • Health promotion and communication service officer-in-charge Mar Wynn Bello
  • National Capital Region regional director Ariel Valencia
  • Central Luzon regional director Leonila Gorgolon
  • Calabarzon regional director Rio Magpantay
  • Philippine Children’s Medical Center director Julius Lecciones 

But Cruz has not produced any documentary evidence so far to support his claims. 

Nine of the officials he accused filed separate libel complaints against him. Cruz tagged the complaints as part of a “conspiracy” to silence him.

Duque himself denied the existence of the so-called “DOH mafia.”

Other officials reassigned:Last week, Duque also ordered the reassignment of two officials from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

One of the reassigned officials is Field Regulatory Operations Office Acting Deputy Director General Maria Lourdes Santiago, who was the FDA officer-in-charge when the agency approved Sanofi Pasteur’s application to commercially sell Dengvaxia in the Philippines in 2015. 

The other is Center for Drug Regulation and Research Director Benjamin Co, who received a USB drive directly from Sanofi in December 2017, a move prohibited by FDA rules. 

Why it matters: Public Attorney’s Office (PAO) chief Persida Acosta is refusing to share to the DOH the results of their forensic examination of several children who received the Dengvaxia dengue vaccine and later died. 

She said there is a “conflict of interest” if PAO gives their findings to the DOH, which implemented the vaccination program in the first place. 

Acosta told lawmakers on Monday, February 26, that PAO will only share the tissue samples of the cadavers they have studied so far to DOH officials who are not implicated in the Dengvaxia controversy. – 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.