Duque denies Garin hired him as consultant
MANILA, Philippines – Department of Health (DOH) Secretary Francisco Duque III denied reports alleging he was hired as a consultant by ex-health chief Janette Garin.
Duque was responding to a statement by Public Attorney's Office (PAO) chief Persida Acosta, who said she received information that Duque and his chief of staff, DOH Undersecretary Mario Villaverde, supposedly have a conflict of interest in leading the department's efforts to handle the Dengvaxia controversy.
"Hindi naman sa wala akong tiwala sa kanya; friends pa nga kami eh. Pero iniiwasan natin na 'yung mga tao, magkaroon ng bahid ng duda, 'yung credibility [ng DOH ay] maaapektuhan," Acosta said in a phone call on Tuesday, January 9.
(It's not that I don't trust him; we're even friends. But we just want to avoid a scenario where the people will doubt the process and the credibility of the DOH.)
Duque denied the reports. But he admitted Garin had invited him and Villaverde to join a committee that evaluated promotions in the DOH.
"I was not a consultant. I was just invited to chair a committee that would evaluate the nominations for the appointments of undersecretaries, assistant secretaries, and board members of speciality hospitals and attached agencies to the DOH," he said.
Duque explained he and Villaverde were invited to join this committee through a Department Personnel Order (DPO) issued on May 4, 2015, "long before the Dengvaxia controversy."
Around that time, Dengvaxia maker Sanofi Pasteur had just submitted its application to be allowed to sell the dengue vaccine in the Philippines. Initial talks between the Philippine government and Sanofi also happened during that period. (READ: TIMELINE: Dengue immunization program for public school students)
Duque said Garin had invited him to join the panel as he had previously chaired the Civil Service Commission (CSC), while Villaverde was former associate dean at the Ateneo School of Government.
The DPO said the DOH will shoulder all expenses of the committee members, including their honoraria. But Duque said he did not even bother to get his honorarium at the time. He said he also just attended two meetings.
"I have served under 4 administrations as secretary of health, PhilHealth (Philippine Health Insurance Corporation) president, CSC chairman, and GSIS (Government Service Insurance System) chairman. Why would I allow my name to be dishonored like this?" said Duque. (READ: FAST FACTS: Who is new DOH Secretary Francisco Duque III?)
It was Garin who had launched the controversial dengue immunization program for public school students in Metro Manila, Central Luzon, and Calabarzon in April 2016.
In November 2017, Sanofi said Dengvaxia may cause a person to develop severe dengue if he or she has not been infected by the virus prior to immunization.