Senate leader wants PAO’s forensic lab defunded

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, September 23) — A Senate leader wants to defund the forensic laboratory of the Public Attorney’s Office (PAO) and transfer its ₱19.5-million budget to the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI).

Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon said Monday in a heated exchange with PAO chief Persida Acosta that the office’s forensic laboratory is a duplication of the NBI’s forensic laboratory.

“Mr. Chair, at the appropriate time, I will move the forensics laboratory of the PAO office not refunded and transferred to the NBI which is also an agency of the Department of Justice,” Drilon said.

If this pushes through, this would result in the abolition of the PAO’s forensic laboratory — which pinned the deaths of over a hundred kids on the dengue vaccine Dengvaxia.

Drilon also questioned the creation of the forensic laboratory, saying that only Congress can create new government offices. However, Acosta said that their forensics laboratory was created under the 2019 General Appropriations Act.

Acosta also said that even previous laws regarding the budget allowed the Budget department and the President to create new government positions.

Iloilo 1st District Rep. Janette Garin, who also served as Health secretary when Dengvaxia was first distributed, has also questioned the existence of PAO’s forensic laboratory, saying that it is not part of the agency’s mandate.

Garin also pointed out some inconsistencies in PAO’s findings with the findings of the crime laboratories of the NBI and the Philippine National Police.

The PAO forensic office insists on a direct link between the deaths of children who had been inoculated with Dengvaxia and the dengue vaccine — even if numerous other experts were unable to come to the same conclusion.

Health experts have also maintained that Dengvaxia is safe to use for people who have previously been infected with dengue. The dengue vaccine has been pulled out of shelves due to its manufacturer’s supposed failure to comply with government regulations, but not because it was found to be unsafe.

Acosta led the charge in prosecuting officials of the government and Dengvaxia’s manufacturer Sanofi Pasteur over the deaths of around a hundred children.

The Dengvaxia scare is now being blamed by health officials for the sudden drop in immunization rates in the country, which has led to a measles outbreak and the reemergence of polio.

Acosta, however, said this is unfair.

CNN Philippines’ Crissy Dimatulac and Xave Gregorio contributed to this report.