Acosta refuses to take blame on public fear of vaccines

Public Attorney’s Office Chief Persida Acosta and PAO Forensic Laboratory Chief Erwin Erfe turned the table on individuals accusing them of corruption, saying their accusers are lying to derail the prosecution of Health and pharmaceutical firm officials over the deaths of children vaccinated with anti-dengue vaccine Dengvaxia.

Acosta and Erfe were referring to the complaint filed by lawyer Wilfredo Garrido and supposed anonymous PAO lawyers accusing them of graft and misconduct by creating public hysteria over government-administered vaccine due to the Dengvaxia controversy and taking an estimated P13-million budget for office supplies used in drafting Dengvaxia cases.

Acosta said that her office merely extended aid to the families of the Dengvaxia-vaccinated children who died pursuant to Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II's Department Order 792 in December 2017 that tasked the PAO to grant legal assistance to the victims’ families.

Acosta said should not be blamed for the public’s refusal to avail of government-administered vaccination and the ongoing dengue outbreak.

“Basura [po ang complaint]. Dalawang dekada na po ako na PAO Chief. Dito sa opisina, there is a no corruption policy. Bawal humingi, bawal tumanggap, kaya 99 percent ng supplies namin ay sa DBM (Department of Budget and Management) Procurement kinukuha. Derecho sa gobyerno ang pera," Acosta said.

“[At] bakit ako ang sinisisi sa dengue outbreak? Ako ba ‘yung lamok? Ako ba ‘yung virus? Ako ba ‘yung nag-announce na hindi pala safe itong Dengvaxia sa mga seronegative [na pasyente]? 2016 pa lang po, may namatay na sa Dengvaxia,” Acosta added.

The controversy on the world's first anti-dengue vaccine Dengvaxia arose in November 2017 when French manufacturer Sanofi Pasteur announced that the vaccine may lead to more severe symptoms of dengue for those who have never been infected by the virus prior to vaccination.

Sanofi’s announcement, however, only came after more than 800,000 people had already been injected with the Dengvaxia vaccine.

Acosta and Erfe have presided over 100 autopsies on Dengvaxia-vaccinated children who died, and they have made explicit pronouncements that it was Dengvaxia that had caused the death of the children even if the the Department of Health has yet to make such determination.

“Hindi ho kami naghahanap ng kaso, 975,000 cases po ang hawak namin ngayon. Bakit ho kami maghahanap ng kaso [para maka-corrupt]? Wala po akong kinorrupt,” Acosta added.

Erfe, for his part, said that the counter affidavits of those accused in the Dengvaxia court cases mirrors that of their accusers which makes him think they share the same motive, which is to use the corruption allegations as defense in the Dengvaxia case.

“Gagamitin lang nila itong defense eh. Pareho lang nung nasa counter-affidavit. Kesa ganito ang gawin nila, harapin na lang nila ang kaso,” Erfe added.

Likewise, Acosta maintained that it is within PAO’s mandate to establish a Forensic Laboratory to verify the testimonies made by the people who seek they PAO’s help since they cannot afford to pay expensive legal fees of private counsels.

Acosta argued that the creation of PAO’s Forensic Laboratory does not mean she is trying to play doctor.

“May forensic lab [kami] because we want to know the truth,” Acosta said.

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