The Department of Justice on Wednesday dismissed the libel complaints filed by former Health Secretary Janette Garin, his husband Iloilo Rep. Oscar Garin, Jr. against former Health secretary Paulyn Ubial and other officials of the Department of Health, in connection with the Dengvaxia vaccine mess.
In a 10-page resolution, the DOJ, through Senior Assistant State Prosecutor Lilian Doris Alejo, ruled that the complainants failed to prove there was “malice,” one of the elements in the crime of libel, on the statements issued by the respondents linking the Garin couple and several others in the anomalous implementation of the DOH’s anti-dengue vaccine program.
“It can be said that the respondents who were very vocal in their objections in the administration of the Dengvaxia vaccine, and concerned about its effects in the human body, had acted out of these sense of justice, thus negating actual malice,” stated the resolution also approved by OIC-Prosecutor General Richard Anthony Fadullon.
“It is understandable that like the general public, they were likewise enraged by the alleged effects of the Dengvaxia vaccine administered to school children where almost died allegedly due to the administration of the said drug,” Alejo added.
Although there is no established link of the effect of the vaccine to the human body, Alejo said it appears that there were already some protests, studies and comments from medical practitioners relative to the administration of this vaccine to the human body.
“Thus, there is this general outrage when many defenseless school children died,” he added.
The Garin couple filed 10 libel complaints in Iloilo, Quezon City and Manila against Ubial and several others in connection with their testimonies before the Senate during its investigation on the Dengvaxia mess which is being blamed for several deaths involving school children.
Besides Ubial, also cleared of the charges were former DOH consultant Dr. Francisco Cruz, Philhealth official Dr. Anthony Leachon and former DOH executive Dr. Teodoro Herbosa.
Garin claimed that the respondents gave information during the Senate investigation which were allegedly malicious, damaging and offensive to them.
The complainants cited Cruz’s accusation that Garin and several other officials belong to a “mafia” that allegedly benefitted from the P3.55 billion anti-dengue vaccine Dengvaxia and other anomalous projects.
On the other hand, Garin’s husband argued that Ubial should be held liable for libel for accusing him of influencing the members of the Commission on Appointment so that her appointment would not be confirmed.
Ubial allegedly claimed that it was the solon who pressured her to buy more dengue vaccines and to put more budget in the 2018 budget.
The DOJ prosecutors ruled that “malice” is a term used to indicate the fact that the offender is prompted by personal ill-will or spite and speaks not in response to duty, but merely to injure the reputation of the person defamed.”
For their defense, Ubial and the other respondents insisted that their statements were meant to educate the public as the issues are clearly imbued with the highest public interest because the said drug administered to the children affected their health, thus, no malice was intended.
They added that their statements made before the Senate inquiry constitute “absolute privilege communication,” as well as the constitutional provisions which guarantee freedom of speech and expression.
“In toto, respondents commonly raised the issue of freedom of expression and freedom of speech. To date, freedom of expression and freedom of speech had gained so much ‘parameters’ that even the highest ranking officials of the government would invoke the same,” the DOJ said.
Garin and other former and incumbent health officials are facing criminal charges before the DOJ filed by the parents and relatives of schoolchildren who died allegedly due to complications after they were given the Dengvaxia vaccine.
Also named as respondents in the complaint were officials of Dengvaxia vaccine manufacturer Sanofi Pasteur and its distributor Zuellig Pharma.
In 2017, Sanofi Pasteur admitted that the vaccine may cause more severe dengue symptoms if given to individuals who have never contracted dengue.
But the firm has asserted that there was no proof yet that Dengvaxia had caused the dengue deaths.
The Dengvaxia vaccine program was launched during the administration of President Benigno Aquino III where Garin served as DOH chief.
At least 800,000 children were administered with the vaccine but the program was suspended last year following Sanofi’s admission.
Leachon, meanwhile, was accused of insinuating that the existence of a mafia at the DOH with the procurement of the controversial vaccines.
But the DOJ said that Leachon’s alleged malicious and defamatory statements he supposedly uttered were not pointed or specified by the former Health secretary.
The Blue Ribbon committee report chaired by Sen. Richard Gordon declared that former President Noynoy Aquino, Garin, and former Budget chief Florencio Abad conspired and must be charged over the controversial dengue vaccination
Gordon believes that the committee’s documentary evidence against Aquino and the other officials are strong enough to stand for court trial.