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Dengvaxia libel case: Ubial, DOH execs win this round against Garin.

The Department of Justice (DOJ) on Wednesday junked the libel complaints filed by former Health Secretary Janette L. Garin and his husband Iloilo Rep. Oscar Garin Jr. against former Health Secretary Paulyn Jean B. Rosell-Ubial and other officials of the Department of Health (DOH) in connection with the Dengvaxia vaccine fiasco.

In a 10-page resolution issued by Senior Assistant State Prosecutor Lilian Doris Alejo and approved by Officer in Charge Prosecutor General Richard Anthony Fadullon, the justice department held 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 health department'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 these sense of justice, thus negating actual malice,' the resolution read.

Garin's camp 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 of schoolchildren.

Aside from Ubial, also exonerated by the DOJ were former DOH consultant Dr. Francisco Cruz, 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.

In particular, the complainants cited Cruz's accusation that Garin and several other officials belong to a 'mafia' that allegedly benefited from the P3.55-billion anti-dengue vaccine Dengvaxia and other anomalous projects.

Garin's husband, on the other hand, said 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 further claimed that it was the Iloilo lawmaker who pressured her to up the allocation and buy more vaccines t in the 2018 national budget.

The DOJ explained 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 claimed 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 guarantees 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 allegedly died due to complications after they were given the Dengvaxia vaccine.

Also named as respondents in the complaint were the officials of Dengvaxia vaccine manufacturer Sanofi Pasteur and its distributor Zuellig Pharma.

It can be recalled that in 2017, Sanofi Pasteur admitted that the vaccine may cause more severe dengue symptoms if given to individuals who have never contracted dengue.

The firm has, however, 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 S. 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.
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Publication:Business Mirror (Makati City, Philippines)
Geographic Code:9PHIL
Date:Oct 18, 2018
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