MANILA (UPDATE) --ABS-CBN found itself on the defensive Monday over a series of supposedly alarmist and sensational reports on deaths linked to a controversial dengue vaccine, which one congresswoman blamed for the decline in immunization coverage in the Philippines.
Deputy Minority Leader Dr. Janette Garin raised the network's coverage of the Dengvaxia vaccine 3 years ago, and an erroneous late-night TV report about a "flesh-eating" disease, which alarmed residents and officials in Pangasinan, but turned out to be a simple case of psoriasis.
Garin, a former health secretary, was among several government officials facing charges for green-lighting the vaccine, which the Public Attorney's Office (PAO) claimed led to deaths.
"Even up to this point in time, I still don't know whether to vote yes or no," she said during the joint House committee hearing on ABS-CBN's franchise application.
"If ever we grant them the renewal of their franchise, all of this should be looked into by ABS-CBN because when you manage a corporation, success is not measured by money. Success is measured by the real difference that you give to our people, not the difference that you mouth off on the presentations that you make."
Garin questioned ABS-CBN's persistent reports on Dengvaxia-related deaths based mainly on soundbites from and autopsies conducted by PAO's "forensic expert," Dr. Erwin Erfe, whose credentials had been repeatedly questioned in the past.
"Mas masahol pa sa COVID-19 ang public health misinformation," said Garin, who is a medical doctor.
Regina Reyes, ABS-CBN's news chief, said the network sought various experts in its Dengvaxia stories.
"We try to do our best to do our stories in a fair and balanced way," she told congressmen.
In 2014, ABS-CBN's late-night newscast "Bandila" came out with a report on a "mysterious" disease allegedly spreading in Pangasinan.
The network later apologized for the wrong report, but Garin said it should have also addressed the bigger stigma on people suffering from psoriasis and their families.
"I'm bringing this out dahil minsan pag tayo'y lumalaki na, nakakalimutan natin na marami pong maliliit na tao na pag ating nasasagasaan, eh walang-wala po silang kakayanang lumaban," she said.
Garin also called attention to an incident when a DZMM anchor read verbatim a letter attacking the late Dr. Lyndon Lee Suy, a former DOH spokesman. She said that episode caused Suy and his parents so much pain.
"We saw the immediate transformation of Lyndon. He was never the same person," she said.
"Halatang-halata po na parang ginawa nang blocktime yung inyong broadcast network para lang sirain yung mga matitinong opisyal sa loob," she added, claiming the program accommodated a letter from someone who was out for Suy's position.
Reyes said she was not familiar with that episode, but acknowledged that "we make mistakes and we try our best to correct them in a timely manner."
ATIENZA BLASTS GARIN
Buhay Party-list Rep. Lito Atienza rebuked Garin for "monopolizing" the congressional hearing, saying that the latter's issue has nothing to do with the application of ABS-CBN's franchise.
"For Secretary Garin who monopolized practically the one-third of this afternoon session, my piece of advice to you. 'Wag mo na masyadong ipaliwanag ang sarili mo at i-depensa mo. The DOJ has already recommended your indictment for serious dereliction of duty, reckless imprudence resulting in the death of children. May mga apo ho akong nabakunahan na hanggang ngayon alangan, baka naapektuhan sila ng Dengvaxia ninyo," he said.
(For Secretary Garin who monopolized practically the one-third of this afternoon session, my piece of advice to you. Don't explain and defend yourself anymore. The DOJ (Department of Justice) has already recommended your indictment for serious dereliction of duty, reckless imprudence resulting in the death of children. I have grandchildren who have been injected with the vaccine, and they are still worried that they will be affected by Dengvaxia.)
"You prepare yourself for your legal defense and not in this congressional hearing. Your cause and your case has nothing to do with ABS-CBN franchise application," Atienza added.
In February, state prosecutors formally accused Garin and several others of reckless imprudence resulting in homicide over the deaths of 8 children who received Dengvaxia.
Also charged were 9 other officials of the Department of Health, Food and Drug Administration, Research Institute for Tropical Medicine, and drug maker Sanofi Pasteur.
The government stopped its nationwide dengue vaccination program and pulled Dengvaxia off the market in late 2017 after Sanofi warned that the vaccine might cause severe symptoms if given to those who did not have prior exposure to the mosquito-borne disease.