MANILA, Philippines — (UPDATE, 6:45 PM) Paulyn Jean Rosell-Ubial on Thursday linked her non-confirmation as Department of Health secretary to the Dengvaxia controversy, claiming during a Senate hearing that the congressman-husband of former DOH chief Janette Garin “pressured” her into buying more of the anti-dengue vaccine and including the funds for its purchase in the 2018 national budget.
“My confirmation was prejudiced by this particular issue that I strongly and openly opposed at the start. And then when I was Health Secretary, I tried to do damage control, but again during budget hearings I was pressured to expand to other areas. And let me note that in the last budget hearing, and this is documented in Congress, that one of the representatives that asked me to buy more dengue vaccines and put it in the 2018 budget is no other than… Oscar “Richard” Garin, Jr.,” said Ubial, referring to the Iloilo First District representative.
But Ubial’s predecessor, Janette Garin, who was also at the Senate hearing on the Dengvaxia fiasco, pointed out that her husband was not a member of the powerful Commission on Appointments, which rejected Ubial’s nomination.
Former DOH chief Garin said that based on the transcript of the 2016 budget hearing read aloud by Ubial during the hearing, “he [Rep. Oscar Garin] sounded” concerned primarily with the welfare of those who had received the first doses of Dengvaxia; and needed assurance there would be funding for the second and third doses of the vaccine. Dengvaxia is given in three doses.
“He was concerned with, nabakunahan ng first dose, nabakunahan ng second dose, paano ‘yung third dose (they were vaccinated with the first dose, they were vaccinated with the second dose, what about the third dose)?” Garin said.
Also, during the inquiry, Ubial alleged that Cebu Rep. Gwendolyn Garcia was among those who repeatedly “badgered” her to allot more DOH funds for the expansion of the dengue vaccination program in Region 7, the lawmaker’s constituency.
Recalling the September 2016 budget deliberations, Ubial said she was badgered for an hour so that she would commit the expansion to Region 7, and at the end of it, was told that the budget of the DOH would be deferred if she did not comply.
Reading the minutes of the Committee on Appropriations from August 2017, meanwhile, Ubial quoted Rep. Garin as saying, “You have to put additional budget diyan (there) to comply for the third dose of this dengue vaccine kasi wala kang item diyan, wala kang budget diyan (because you have no item there, you have no budget there) for the dengue vaccines.”
They were discussing the implementation of the vaccine in Metro Manila.
Ubial had earlier told Senate probers that she had expressed serious reservation about rushing a wide-scale immunization of a new vaccine when she was still DOH undersecretary.
When Ubial was named secretary by President Rodrigo Duterte, she signed a resolution raising safety concerns about the government’s anti-dengue vaccination program, but later flip-flopped and agreed to expand it.- With a report by Tricia Aquino, InterAksyon