Public Attorney's Office

PAO’s forensic work despite defunding can be part of Dengvaxia probe – Guevarra

Lian Buan
PAO’s forensic work despite defunding can be part of Dengvaxia probe – Guevarra

Public Attorneys Office (PAO) chief Persida Acosta lugs 2 truckloads of documents and evidence to the Department of Justice (DOJ) on Wednesday, November 25, to file the 6th batch of Dengvaxia complaints.

Photo by Inoue Jaena

(UPDATED) Despite no budget for its forensic lab, PAO still performed autopsies to file the 6th batch of complaints alleging homicide against officials who had a hand in administering the dengue vaccine

Public Attorneys Office (PAO) chief Persida Acosta lugged two truckloads of documents and evidence to the Department of Justice (DOJ) on Wednesday, November 25, to file the 6th batch of Dengvaxia complaints despite her forensic lab being defunded for 2020 and 2021.

Acosta said the complaints were filed on behalf of 99 children whose deaths PAO was attributing to the dengue vaccine Dengvaxia. To date, there has been no established scientific link between the vaccine and such deaths.

Acosta filed new complaints of reckless imprudence resulting in homicide against former health secretary Janette Garin and current health chief Francisco Duque. Each was sued only in the immunizations that happened during their terms.

To build up these complaints, PAO needed to perform autopsies to support its hypotheses that “bago sila bakunahan okay ‘yung mga bata, majority hindi pa na-dengue namatay after ma-Dengvaxia (before they were vaccinated they were okay, majority of them had not contracted Dengue yet but died after being administered with Dengvaxia.).”

But how could PAO conduct autopsies when its forensic lab was defunded for 2020 and still was not allotted any budget for 2021?

Acosta insisted the defunded budget was only meant for additional equipment for their lab. “The PAO legal services and its forensic laboratory personnel can exist and operate even without said equipment,” said Acosta in a message to Rappler on Wednesday night.

“That’s for the panel of prosecutors to clarify during the preliminary investigation,” Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said on Wednesday, November 25.

Guevarra clarified that while the lack of forensic budget was”not a proper issue for resolution in a criminal complaint, it may have a bearing on the probative value of the evidence.”

President Rodrigo Duterte defunded PAO’s forensic lab after intense scrutiny of Congress over its legal basis for existence.

Acosta appealed, but Guevarra confirmed during Senate plenary hearings for the 2021 budget that there was still no allocation for the forensic lab.

“It is not there (in the 2021 budget),” said Senator Sonny Angara, budget sponsor who answered interpellations on the DOJ’s behalf.

Asked if the use of the forensic lab despite zero budget was an administration issue of the DOJ family, Guevarra said he could not interfere in PAO’s operations as “PAO is an autonomous agency.”

“The PAO courses its annual budget request through the DOJ, but it is solely responsible for the utilization of the budget allocated to it,” said Guevarra.

Acosta added PAO personnel who are conducting forensic work are paid out of their mandatory compensation, saying “our special public attorneys and forensic doctors have mandated salaries and allowances from the allotment of personnel services per General Appropriations Act 2020.”

At the House of Representatives, Acosta insisted that while the lab had no budget, it was not declared illegal.

In his budget message for 2020, Duterte affirmed the special provision that says, “No amount appropriated in this act shall be used for travel allowance, meetings, and other maintenance and operating expenses of the PAO Forensic Laboratory.”

Acosta, however, cited another provision of the affirmation message of the president which says, “the limitation does not, in any way, prohibit the PAO from performing its legitimate functions under existing laws.”

In March 2019, DOJ prosecutors charged Garin with reckless imprudence resulting in homicide as a result of PAO’s Dengvaxia-related complaints. – Rappler.com

Lian Buan

Lian Buan covers justice and corruption for Rappler. She is interested in decisions, pleadings, audits, contracts, and other documents that establish a trail. If you have leads, email lian.buan@rappler.com or tweet @lianbuan.