By Ben Rosario
A fierce debate on the dengvaxia controversy nearly resulted in the early adjournment of Tuesday’s House of Representatives’ plenary session.
The argument triggered by an innocent privilege speech on the on-going polio outbreak pitted Buhay Partylist Rep. Lito Atienza and Senior Deputy Minority Leader Janette Garin (NP, Iloilo) who took turns at assailing each other’s stand on the dengvaxia issue.
It all started when Deputy Majority Leader Bernadette Herrera (Buhay Partylist) stood for a privilege speech where she aired fears that the proposed 2020 allocation for the nationwide anti-polio vaccination program may not be enough, saying that another P800 million is needed to finance it.
Rising to interpellate Herrera, Atienza blamed the House leadership for quickly disposing of the 2020 General Appropriations Bills, saying that Herrera’s request may no longer be acted upon because the budget measure has already been approved.
Atienza went on to lament that polio virus has made a comeback in the country because the dengvaxia scare and the anti-tetanus toxoid deaths have influenced parents against trusting government vaccination programs.
When Garin rose to interpellate Herrera, the former chided so-called “purveyors of fake news” as the reason for the lack of public confidence on vaccination.
“Let us stop swindling the Filipino People and the wastage of funds in your Dengvaxia campaign. I am sure hindi na yan mangyayari ulit because we have a good, efficient and competent Secretary, in the person of Secretary Duque,” Atienza retorted.
Since Atienza was not allowed to discuss an issue emanating from a privilege speech, he decided to take the floor on Tuesday.
Atienza again took the rostrum to deliver a question of individual and collective privilege but Garin vehemently objected.
Garin also moved to have Atienza declared out of order but this was rejected by the presiding officer, Deputy Speaker Michael Romero, who noted that Senior Deputy Majority Leader Rimpy Bondoc had already declared that the Buhay partylist solon can take the floor.
IN the ensuring debate, Atienza assailed Garin’s claim against purveyors of fake news, pointing out that he felt alluded to.
Atienza pointed out that ever since the misapplication of the Dengvaxia vaccine, parents all over the country have refrained from having their children vaccinated out of fear that it might do their children more harm than good.
“We cannot blame mothers for losing confidence in the government’s vaccination program, especially after the Dengvaxia scandal during the past administration,” said Atienza in an interview.
At the end of the debate, the Buhay partylist solon challenged Garin to a debate that will be aired live on national television, saying that the loser should be willing to resign as member of Congress.