Ex-President Aquino: Politics aggravating Dengvaxia mess

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, February 26) — Former President Benigno Aquino III on Monday urged government officials to take politics out of the dengue vaccine investigation.

Aquino, in his opening statement during the House panels' hearing on Dengvaxia on Monday, reminded officials it is their responsibility to protect the public.

"Alam na po nating pinasukan na ang isyung ito ng politika. Mainam sigurong ipaalala ko, na ang bawat opisyal ng pamahalaan, elected man o appointed, ay may oath of office," he said.

[Translation: They're politicizing the issue. I'm reminding you, all government officials, elected or appointed, are bound by the Oath of Office.]

The former President added, "Diin ko po: Sa pagpapa-kaba, sa paghaka-haka, sa pagpapaduda, tinutupad ba ninyo ang "promotion of the general welfare", pati na ang "protection of life"?"

[Translation: I emphasize: By creating panic and doubt, are you upholding the 'promotion of general welfare' and 'protection of life?']

Aquino said the Dengvaxia hysteria has affected the Department of Health's other immunization programs, a development confirmed by Health Secretary Francisco Duque III.

"Balita na ngang marami na ang tumatanggi sa iba pang bakuna na walang kontrobersya. Ibig sabihin, tinatanggihan nila ang proteksyon laban sa sakit... Baka 'di ito ang sadya ng mga namumulitika, pero narito na po tayo ngayon," he said.

[Translation: I heard there are many people refusing vaccinations. It means they are saying no to protection... Maybe this is not what those politicizing the issue want, but that is what's happening.]

Related: Unnecessary panic over Dengvaxia affecting immunization programs – Health chief

Aquino said it is up to the government to keep the public informed yet calm in the face of a health controversy.

"Nung kami po ang namamahala, kapag may kalamidad o kaguluhan, una naming pinapakita na 'in control' ang pamahalaan. Layon naming pakalmahin ang ating mamamayan," he said.

[Translation: When we were in the position, the government had to show we are in control. Our duty was to keep the country calm.]

For his part, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said President Rodrigo Duterte is far from politicizing the issue, adding Duterte even expressed understanding on why his predecessor agreed to implement the mass vaccination program.

"If it is, it's certainly not because of the President. The president has taken a very calm, very rational approach to this. He has made a declaration that he understands why the previous administration decided used Dengavxia having been a victim of dengue himself," he said in a media briefing on Monday.

Leave Dengvaxia issue to experts

Former President Aquino said comments on the issue should only come from experts to prevent unnecessary panic. He cited the call of "Doctors for Public Welfare," a group of Filipino medical experts, to refrain from making premature conclusions based on insufficient data.

"Silang mga aral at eksperto, sila po ang ating pagsalitain para mapayuhan tayo nang maayos," Aquino said.

[Translation: They are the experts, they should only be the ones talking about the issue to give the correct information.]

In a published statement dated February 4, the group urged the Department of Justice to order the Public Attorney's Office (PAO) — which is under the Department of Justice (DOJ) — to "stop performing  autopsies" on children vaccinated with Dengvaxia. It also asked to "leave the matter of determining the cause of death to competent forensic pathologists."

Related: DOJ urged to stop PAO from doing autopsies on Dengvaxia-vaccinated children

Aquino noted it is easy to get a certification on forensics.

"Masakit po nito: Lahat na lang po may opinyon, kwalipikado man o hindi, lalo na po yung isang maingay na ang certification ay tila isang antas lang ang lamang sa nabibiling diploma sa Recto (in Manila)," he said.

[Translation: This is what pains me: Everyone has an opinion — whether they're qualified or not — some with certifications which was bought from Recto.]

During the hearing, Chief Public Attorney Persida Acosta detailed the qualifications and capabilities of PAO and its forensic director Dr. Erwin Erfe to conduct autopsies.

"Hindi naman mabibili ang certificate sa Harvard. Talagang paghihirapan mo po iyan," Acosta said.

[Translation: You cannot buy certificates from Harvard University. He worked hard for it.]

She added PAO has three groups of doctors — clinical, forensic, and pathologist teams — making up its forensic team.

Duque said 39 Dengvaxia-vaccinated children have died, but DOH cannot conclude whether they died due to the vaccine.

PAO has conducted forensic investigations on 26 children who died after receiving at least one dose of Dengvaxia. It said there is a "pattern" in the deaths, suggesting a "strong link" to the vaccine.

Acosta defended PAO's refusal to have a joint investigation with the independent probe of Philippine General Hospital experts. She said there will be a conflict of interest and a violation of attorney-client relationship as the victims' kin have sued Health officials.

Duque called for more unified investigations, adding there is no single issue that has "divided" the public as much as the Dengvaxia controversy.