The Department of Justice (DOJ) and one of its attached agencies, the Public Attorney’s Office (PAO), have committed to observing the rule of law in a case involving an anti-dengue vaccine and clearing the air on claims of alleged conflict of interest.
In a joint statement made last December 1, the Justice Department and PAO said the resolution of the pending complaints will proceed in accordance with existing DOJ rules of procedure covering preliminary investigations and appeal before the Secretary of Justice.
Several parents of children who died allegedly after getting Dengvaxia filed criminal complaints against former Health officials and the distributors and manufacturers of the vaccine for reckless imprudence.
PAO had endorsed the cases to the DOJ panel of state prosecutors but had raised a conflict-of-interest issue against Justice Undersecretary Jesse Hermogenes T. Andres, who has supervision over the DOJ’s National Prosecution Service (NPS).
Andres’ law firm had represented Dr. Janette Garin, the former Health secretary and current Iloilo congresswoman, who was one of the subjects of the PAO complaints related to the Dengvaxia case.
But as early as June 2022, before Andres assumed office as head of the NPS, his law firm had already withdrawn as Garin’s counsel in the Dengvaxia case. Undersecretary Andres had also inhibited from the case as early as July 7, 2022 within one week from his assumption of office.
“The DOJ and the PAO take this opportune time to express their united sympathy for those who have lost their loved ones,” said the joint statement.
“There is no legal process nor remedy in law that will ever bring back those that have gone before us.”
“On the cases at hand, the DOJ assures the PAO, the parties to the Dengvaxia cases and the general public of strict observance of due process in addressing the pending issues in the cases,” it added.
The statement said there was no factual basis to exclude the DOJ panel from conducting a preliminary investigation of the Dengvaxia case and hand over the task to the Quezon City Prosecutor’s Office as earlier suggested.
The DOJ stressed that the integrity of the Panel of Prosecutors for the DOJ is also upheld.
“Their discretion is completely independent,” the joint statement said. “The DOJ and PAO will guard against being swayed by undue accusations coming from its clients. There is indeed no place for undue influence coming from litigants in the legal process.”
“Undersecretary Andres’ action prior to his assumption to office and shortly thereafter are consistent with the rules of professional responsibility of lawyers,” the DOJ-PAO statement added.
“The DOJ and PAO are one in seeking justice,” it said. “There has never been and never will be any conflict of interest in the resolution of the cases.”