By Jeffrey G. Damicog
The Public Attorney’s Office (PAO) yesterday filed a P3.3-million civil suit against former Health Secretary Janette Garin and 29 others, including seven past and present Department of Health (DOH) officials, over the death of a child who was administered with the anti-dengue vaccine, Dengvaxia, in Quezon City last September.
PAO Chief Persida Acosta filed the civil complaint before the Quezon City Regional Trial Court (RTC) on behalf of Ramil Pestillos and his wife Liza, the parents of the dead child Anjielica Pestillos.
“In the case of Anjielica M. Pestillos, a healthy ten-year-old girl who had no history of any serious illness including dengue, she paid the ultimate price,” read the complaint.
The complaint cited that Anjielica, a Grade 4 student at the Holy Spirit Elementary School in Quezon City, received for free the vaccination at her school on Sept. 13, 2017.
However, Anjielica died on Dec. 5, 2017 at the East Avenue Medical Center, where she had been confined since Nov. 15, 2017.
Apart from Garin, Department of Health (DOH) officials named in the suit are Undersecretary Gerardo Bayugo, Assistant Secretary Lyndon Lee Suy, Director Joyce Ducusin, Division Chief Rosalinda Vianzon, Director IV Mario Baquilod as well as former undersecretaries Vicente Belizardo and Kenneth Hartigan-Go.
The PAO also included in the suit are executives and officials of Dengvaxia manufacturer Sanofi Pasteur, namely, chairman and president Carlito Realuyo; chief financial officer Stanislas Camart; directors Jean Louis Grunwald and Conchita Santos; corporate secretary Jazel Anne Calvo; and assistant corporate secretaries Pearl Grae Cabali and Maria Ester de Anton.
Also facing the civil suit are officers of the broker of the vaccine, Zuellig Pharma Corporation –president and chief executive officer Raymund Azurin; vice president and treasurer Nilo Badiola; chairman Kasigod Jamias; chief operating officer Marc Franck; vice presidents Ashley Gerard Antonio, Rosa Maria Chua, Danilo Cahoy, Manuel Concio III, and Roland Cinco; assistant vice presidents Ana Liza Peralta and Ma. Visitacion Barriero; and directors Michael Becker, Ricardo Romulo, Imran Babar Chughtai, and John Stokes Davison.
“It is hurting and emotionally disturbing enough for one’s child to die, but the death to have been made possible by government officials tasked to protect the citizenry’s health and interest, and caused by a drug ironically believed to protect children from the lethal threat posed by the dengue virus, is truly damaging and disheartening,” the charge sheet said.
In the suit, the PAO asked the court that “the defendants jointly and severally liable to pay the plaintiffs the amount of Three Million Three Hundred Eighteen Thousand and Eighty Pesos (P3,318,080.00) as actual and compensatory damages.”
Apart from this, the PAO also sought that the defendants “jointly and severally” pay P50,000 as civil indemnity for the death of Anjielica, P400,000 as moral damages, and P400,000 as exemplary damages.
Meanwhile, the Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption (VACC) and the Vanguard of the Philippine Constitution, Inc., (VPCI) also filed yesterday a joint administrative complaint against six officials of the DOH before the Office of the President over the Dengvaxia mess.
Roque welcomed the joint administrative complaint against DOH undersecretaries Carol Tanio, Gerardo Bayugo, Lilibeth David, and Mario Villaverde; and assistant secretaries Lyndon Lee Suy, and Nestor Santiago.
Also included in the complaint are Financial and Management Service (FMS) Director Laureano Cruz; OIC Directors Joyce Ducusin, and Mar Wynn Bello; Director IV Leonila Gorgolon, Rio Magpantay, and Ariel Valencia; and Director Julius Lecciones.
“Very good, because I’d like to know the reasons, too,” Roque said during the Palace briefing.
The VACC and the VPCI are also calling for the dismissal from service of the respondents for grave misconduct and gross negligence for “ill-advisedly, thoughtlessly, and imprudently implementing” the school-based dengue vaccination program.
They claimed the procurement of the vaccine was fast-tracked and may have transgressed pertinent provisions of the Government Procurement Reform Act.
The complainants said the respondents’ supposed “utter disregard” of medical protocols and substantive law, regardless of the number of deaths resulting from the vaccine, makes them accountable.
Malacañang rejected the appeal of former Health Secretary Esperanza Cabral to stop the autopsy conducted on the bodies of children who allegedly died after getting Dengvaxia shots.
Cabral and the Doctors for Public Welfare (DPW) made a similar call on the Department of Justice (DOJ) to order the PAO to stop the autopsy on children and leave the matter of determining the cause of death to competent experts.
“The PAO must show that they did perform the right process of examination on the exhumed bodies of the deceased kids,” said Dr. Francisco Tranquilino of the DPW.
But Roque said government will exercise all options until the truth is reached. “We will proceed with the autopsies because the UP-PGH (University of the Philippines-Philippine General Hospital) study itself said that autopsy may have to be conducted on the three,” said.
Roque was referring to the PGH-Dengue Investigative Task Force (DITF) report which revealed that three of the 14 child victims died of dengue. Two of the three child deaths “may have been on account of vaccine failure,” the report added.
Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II said he will not stop the PAO from conducting autopsies.
Since the PGH-DITF has been tasked by the DOH to conduct the autopsies, the DPW urged the DOJ to just leave the matter of determining the cause of death to “competent forensic pathologists.”
But Roque countered the group, saying: “You are not barred from introducing pathological results from other sources. But courts very seldom rely on findings not made by government medico-legal officers,” Roque said.
“We’re not telling anyone to stop what they are doing. We are just saying that we are flatly rejecting the call of the physicians to put an end to the exhumation because the position of the government is we’re in search of the truth; we will resort to autopsy when it is needed,” he continued.
At the end of yesterday’s joint probe into the Dengvaxia mess by the House Committees on Good Government and Public Accountability and on Health, Garin witnessed on Monday the wrath of angry mothers whose children are believed to have been adversely affected by the vaccine.
Garin had just stepped out of the Belmonte Hall of the Batasan Complex’s South Wing Annex at past 5 p.m., when four wailing women rushed at her.
The ex-Cabinet official had just participated in the day-long congressional investigation on the P3.5-billion anti-dengue inoculation program of the previous Aquino administration using Sanofi S.A.’s Dengvaxia vaccine when she was nearly attacked.
During the emotionally-charged confrontation, the women shouted, “You killed our children!” and “We want medical intervention!” as they tried to grab and claw at Garin as rushed into an elevator behind several male companions.
However, the protesting women would later admit to reporters who covered the hearing that none of their children died as a result of Dengvaxia. Still, they insisted seeing their neighbors’ kids falling ill due to the vaccine.
Reports said that the mothers were taken to the Batasan Complex by Gabriela Party-List Rep. Arlene Brosas, a member of the militant Makabayan bloc. (With reports from Argyll Cyrus B. Geducos, Ellson A. Quismorio, and Hannah Torregoza)