A steady stream of women and children wound its way across the the parking lot and into the main entrance of the Public Attorney's Office (PAO) building on Monday.
Security guards were having a hard time handling the huge crowd, as more people poured in to fall in line with parents and their children in tow with the younger ones cradled in their arms.
A woman and her three children were having breakfast from plastic containers filled with food and rice, spread out on the floor.
The line of people snaked its way up to the third floor where nurses and doctors extracted blood samples from the children.
A mother, clutching her sobbing daughter to her chest as the nurse inserted a syringe in her arm, told GMA News that she fears for her daughter's life after hearing news reports linking the dengue vaccine, Dengvaxia, to the deaths of children.
"Siyempre po kinabahan po ako. Malaman ko ang dugo para maano yung anak ko labas na maganda ang dugo niya tapos di lagnatin. Natatakot ako sa mga balita na ganyan kaya dapat maanuhan ang mga bata," she said.
The Public Attorney's Office (PAO) Forensics Division led by Dr. Erwin Erfe had performed forensic autopsies on 15 children, who allegedly died of severe dengue even after they were given the vaccine.
Based on media reports, Erfe conducted forensic examinations and found a pattern of severe bleeding, enlarged internal organs and unusually quick death after the patient started feeling sick.
Erfe also says histopathological examination of tissue samples from 10 year old Anjielica Pestilos who died last December confirm the deadly effects of the vaccine.
Speaking at a press conference last Monday, Erfe said Dengvaxia may have aggravated pre-existing medical conditions and caused a new disease similar to yellow fever to take hold.
"Sa tingin namin, ang dahilan ng paglaki ng organs, pagdurugo ng baga, atay, puso, sikmura ay dahil sa viscerotropic-like disease (VTLD) na naidulot ng pagsaksak ng Dengvaxia," Erfe said.
"Kaya po dito sa aming opinion na cause of death niya ang underlying cause ay VTLD secondary to Dengvaxia vaccination," he added.
A separate investigation by experts from the UP-Philippine General Hospital on at least 14 suspected Dengvaxia-related deaths, revealed at least two cases of possible vaccine failure but there was no evidence linking Dengvaxia to the deaths.
Despite the contrary findings of the UP PGH, worried parents continue to swamp public hospitals like the Philippine Children's Medical Center (PCMC) in Quezon City.
PCMC records reveal that about 2,300 Dengvaxia-innoculated children had been brought in by their parents since January 1.
Former health officials and some lawmakers have called on the PAO to stop its forensic autopsies to stifle the growing fear and anxiety.
Among them is former health secretary Janette Garin who was mobbed by a group of irate mothers while leaving Monday's congressional hearing on Dengvaxia.
"Nangyari ito because of all the hysteria and the panic that’s being created…It’s better to bring it to court because it will be discussed thoroughly, all sides,” she says.
Former Health Secretary Dr. Esperanza Cabral also called for an end to the PAO autopsies, saying people are beginning to distrust the Health department's other immunization programs.
"Marami tayong mga kailangan pag-aralan kung saan tayo nagkamali pero isa sa palagay ko ay iyong sensationalism na ginagawa natin sa mga issues na ganito. Hindi natin naiisip sa umpisa kung ano iyong larger implication nito sa kalusugan at sa mga public health programs ng ating bansa," she said.
PAO Chief Atty. Persida Rueda-Acosta, however, is determined to carry out more autopsies in the future.
She says the forensic autopsies will continue as part of the buildup of evidence against those responsible for the Dengvaxia mess as long as the parents and relatives of the deceased children request her help.
As for accusations that the PAO is fanning the flames of fear and doubt, Acosta believes people started fearing for the lives of their children when Dengvaxia manufacturer Sanofi Pasteur announced the possible ill effects of the vaccine.
"Sabi ng Sanofi ng November 2017 pwedeng magkaroon ng serious illnesses at pwede ring mag-dengue, severe. 'Yan ang ikinakatakot ng mga bata, ng mga bata at magulang, hindi kami. Hindi kami nag-create ng hysteria," said Acosta.
Acosta admits receiving a letter from the legal counsel of Sanofi Pasteur asking the PAO to allow their consultant, forensic expert Dr. Raquel Fortun, to observe autopsies that will be conducted in the coming months.
But the PAO chief says allowing such an arrangement could compromise their investigation.
"Para naman kaming mga Pilipino ng panahon ng Hapon na naging Makapili. Hindi pwede napagdudahan ang PAO na nakikipagkuntsabahan kami sa gusto nilang idemanda," she explained.
GMA News is still trying to get Dr. Fortun's side on the matter. —BAP/KG, GMA News