House bill seeks to penalize public health disinformation

Rep. Janette Garin (Photo Courtesy of ABS-CBN News)

By: Jennifer P. Rendon 

THE recent health outbreaks could be a result of public disinformation by people who claimed to be experts.

This is what Rep. Janette Garin of the first district of Iloilo would like to end.

Garin, a former Health Secretary, said she will file a bill that seeks to penalize doctors and outlets that give false information regarding public health.

Tentatively titled as “The Public Disinformation Bill,” the lady solon would also propose the designation of a spokesperson which will be authorized to speak on certain health concerns.

“If it’s about immunization, then let a vaccine export do the talking,” she said.

Garin, who is currently the House senior minority leader, said the spreading of disinformation has taken a toll on the country’s immunization program.

“That’s why, we have an outbreak because of the vaccine scare because some individuals have peddled wrong information,” she said.

Garin said the problem with vaccination is that it could not be re-institutionalized easily.

“There’s a lot of explaining to do. We could catch up with the scare three to five years pa,” she said.

She admitted that gaining the public’s trust in vaccination might be difficult as there is a need to educate the people with various individuals pretending to be experts.

“There should be accountability,” she said citing that even elected officials should not discuss a health issue if they are not experts on the field.

On Sept. 19, 2019, the Department of Health (DOH) declared a polio epidemic following a case in Lanao del Sur.

It was the first recorded cases since the country was declared polio-free almost 20 years ago.

Prior to that, the DOH also declared a dengue epidemic.

Garin believed that disinformation about Dengvaxia has created vaccine scare among parents.

She cited that Dengvaxia has been demonized without any basis.

In fact, “it was listed on the Essential Medicines List. By being on the EML, the government should make it available to its people at all times,” she said.

The ban on Dengvaxia, Garin believed, is disadvantageous to Filipinos who had no way of purchasing the vaccine in the country.


Aside from criminalizing public health disinformation, Garin also wanted to legislate the creation of NITAG or the National Immunization Technical Advisory Group.

Before, the DOH had a National Immunization Committee but it was abolished during the time of former DOH Secretary Enrique Ona.

She said that a lot of countries have already created their own NITAGs.

“I believe immunization should be handled by experts. If we create a NITAG through legislation, it could not just be abolished easily,” she said.

With the NITAG, a body would act in accordance with the guidelines and standards of the World Health Organization.