The Supreme Court has been asked to designate a special court to handle all criminal cases on deaths related to the controversial Dengvaxia vaccine during the previous administration.
In a 25-page petition, the Public Attorney’s Office appealed to the SC to designate a family court in Quezon City to hear and decide on cases of reckless imprudence resulting in homicide filed by the Department of Justice against former officials led by former Health Secretary Janette Garin.
The PAO, which acts as counsel of families of victims of the Dengvaxia mess, seeks the consolidation and transfer to the designated court of the initial cases filed in various trial courts in Quezon City, Caloocan City, Muntinlupa City, Laguna and Bataan in the first batch of cases to the designated court.
It also asked the SC to assign another regional trial court in Quezon City to handle the civil cases already filed and still to be filed by the victims in different court venues.
“In asking for a change of venue, the petitioners invoke the high probability that there will be miscarriage of justice if the instant cases are heard by various courts in three different judicial regions of the country,” stated the petition signed by PAO chief Persida Rueda-Acosta.
The PAO argued that hearing the cases in different venues would “unduly delay the proceedings as the handling prosecutors, private complainants, accused, witnesses and assisting counsels will have to run around to attend hearings.”
“The trial of the instant cases will call for substantially the same set of witnesses, particularly on the technical aspect of the procurement of the Dengvaxia vaccine and implementation of the mass immunization program, as well as medical aspect of the case to prove the legal and proximate causation between the inoculation of the herein minor-victims and their eventual deaths,” PAO said in a statement.
The petition came after the DOJ indicted Garin and other former health officials over the first batch of Dengvaxia cases involving eight schoolchildren.
Cases for eight counts of reckless imprudence resulting in homicide were filed against Garin and nine other health officials—Dr. Vicente Belizario Jr., Dr. Kenneth Hartigan-Go, Dr. Gerardo Bayugo, Dr. Lyndon Lee Suy, Dr. Irma Asuncion, Dr. Julius Lecciones, Dr. Maria Joyce Ducusin, Dr. Rosalinda Vianzon and Dr. Mario Baquilod.
Also indicted were Dr. Socorro Lupisan and Dr. Maria Rosario Capeding, both from the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine; and Carlito Realuyo, Stanislas Camart, Jean Louis Grunwald, Jean Francois Vacherand, Conchita Santos and Jazel Anne Calvo from the Dengvaxia-manufacturer Sanofi Pasteur Inc.
Meanwhile, four counts of reckless imprudence resulting to homicide were recommended against Ma. Lourdes Santiago and Melody Zamudio of the Food and Drug Administration.
The DOJ panel said it found “Garin and the other respondents to have exhibited ‘inexcusable lack of precaution and foresight’ when they facilitated, with undue haste, ‘the registration and purchase of Dengvaxia’ and used the vaccine in implementing a school-based dengue mass immunization program.”
It also said that Garin and the other respondents reportedly circumvented various regulations in the purchase of P3.5 billion worth of the anti-dengue vaccine that constituted proof of their reckless imprudence.
The DOJ panel said that at the time of purchase, the Dengvaxia vaccine was reportedly not yet listed in the Philippine National Drug Formulary (PNDF). A purchase request for the vaccine was only made in March 2016.
It was also learned that clinical trials for Dengvaxia were not yet completed when it was purchased and rolled out for use in the mass immunization program.
The DOJ is expected to release another resolution on the second batch of cases involving eight more deaths, while it is still conducting PI hearings on 13 other cases.