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Justice assures Health chief of fair handling

Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra on Sunday said his department will be fair in resolving the criminal charges filed against Health Secretary Francisco Duque III, over the deaths linked to the Dengvaxia vaccine, despite a Palace pronouncement that the cases against him would not prosper.

Guevarra said the charges of reckless imprudence resulting in homicide and violations of the Anti-Torture Act and the Consumer Act against Duque would be resolved based on evidence at hand.

The Palace, he added, will not have a hand in the resolution of the charges against Duque and other respondents, including former Health secretary Janette Garin.

READ: Garin denies Dengvaxia charges

Nonetheless, Guevarra admitted that the President said during a Cabinet meeting on Feb. 6 that the complaints filed against Duque by the families of Dengvaxia victims would not prosper because they involve “a battle of medical experts.”

However, he clarified that the President only said that in response to Duque’s concern, and said there was no instruction to dismiss the criminal charges against the Health secretary.

“The President merely expressed a personal opinion in reaction to Secretary Duque’s statement that PAO chief [Persida] Acosta had relentlessly filed cases against him in connection with the Dengvaxia controversy,” Guevarra said in a text message.

“In fairness to the President, he has never interfered in the discharge of the DOJ’s functions and responsibilities, including the resolution of the Dengvaxia cases,” he added.

The DOJ chief said he told the President the Dengvaxia cases before his department would be resolved by this month.

“I also don’t have any hand in the preliminary investigation. My office only steps in when there is petition for review filed before the DOJ challenging the resolution of the investigating prosecutors. That’s the process we follow in DOJ,” he said.

Earlier, presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo said the President had assured Duque that the cases against him would not prosper.

The Health secretary has said the complaints against him lack merit and were meant to distract him from his work of “looking after” children who received Dengvaxia shots.

He also said that Acosta’s “baseless claims and accusations” led to a decline in public confidence in vaccines and caused a rise in the cases of measles and other vaccine-preventable diseases.

Acosta, on to the other hand, said the Dengvaxia cases have nothing to do with the measles outbreak.

The Palace and the DOJ both defended Acosta, saying she is just doing her job of building cases against those liable for the Dengvaxia mess.

The allegation against Acosta came after the House Committees on Good Government and Public Accountability and Health recommended the filing of graft, technical malversation and civil charges against former President Benigno Aquino III, former Budget Secretary Florencio Abad, Garin, and several other officials over the dengue vaccination program.

READ: Aquino, Sanofi execs rapped over Dengvaxia

The DOJ is expected to resolve this month the first batch of cases involving nine schoolchildren of the 32 cases filed so far in the DOJ--Aejay Bautista, Angelica Pestilos, Lenard Baldonado, Zandro Colite, Abbie Hedia, Jansyn Bataan, Mark Axel Ebonia, Rey Justin Almagno, and Alexander Jaime.

DOJ has also already completed the preliminary investigation on the second batch of cases involving eight victims--Clarissa Alcantara, Christine Mae De Guzman, Erico Leabres, Roshaine Cariño, Naomi Nimura, John Paul Rafael, Michael Tablate and Christine Joy Asuncion.

It has just started the preliminary investigation on a third batch of cases involving 13 victims--Wiljen Alcontin, Eleazar Brigoli Jr., Trishanne Asona, EJ Christian Apa, Joaniña Cortes, Gladimeir Juevesano, Kianah Mae Racuya, Adeline Castroverde, Jessica Viaros and Senior Police Officer 2 Vicente Arugay; Shiela Mae Guerra and Gillian Vasquez; and Kristen Jean Martira.

Two more cases were recently filed with the DOJ involving the deaths of a 39-year-old doctor, Kendric Gotoc, and 12-year-old student Zarah Mae De Luna from Quezon.

In all 32 complaints filed so far, Garin and others were accused of negligence for their failure to obtain the consent and inform the Dengvaxia recipients and their parents or families of the dangers and risks related to the vaccine.

The complainants cited the failure of the Health department under Garin to conduct proper screening of Dengvaxia recipients and implement active and aggressive monitoring and surveillance.

Garin and other respondents have persistently denied criminal liability in the deaths of the schoolchildren inoculated with the anti-dengue vaccine, arguing that the direct link of the deaths to the vaccine has not been scientifically established.

Topics: Menardo Guevarra , Francisco Duque III , Dengvaxia vaccine , Anti-Torture Act , Consumer Act , Janette Garin
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