By Vanne Elaine Terrazola
Health Secretary Francisco Duque III still has the final say on whether or not to step down from his post amid criticism of his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, a senator said on Friday (May 22).
Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon maintained that the Department of Health (DOH) secretary, despite his blunders, still serves at the pleasure of President Duterte and the “talk of his resignation is a decision that only Sec. Duque and the President can decide.”
He said the government, however, cannot dismiss the “grave and unforgivable lapses” made by Duque as the leader of the country’s fight against the coronavirus disease.
“He was negligent. He did not exercise the due diligence expected of him as PhilHealth (Philippine Health Insurance Corp.) chair. These issues affect the credibility of the DOH to lead this fight,” Drilon said.
“Sooner or later, the President will have to face this.”
But Senate President Vicente Sotto III believed that the pressure on the calls for Duque’s ouster should not be on President Duterte, but on the DOH chief himself.
“The pressure should not be on the President but instead on Sec. Duque,” Sotto said in a separate text message.
He, on the other hand, noted: “In other countries, if an official makes a big blunder, they immediately resign out of delicadeza.”
“I don’t think the latest statements of the DOH secretary will make the 14 senators who passed a resolution some weeks ago, asking for his resignation, change their mind,” Sen. Sonny Angara said.
“Sad to say, his statements have hurt the department and the government’s efforts more than helping, since his remarks have caused confusion amongst the public,” he lamented.
Like her colleagues, Sen. Risa Hontiveros slammed Duque’s controversial statements, which came amid the alleged overpricing of the testing and medical supplies being used to address the health emergency.
“Altogether, these gaffes do not inspire confidence in the health department’s programs to address the pandemic,” Hontiveros said.
“DOH has to make sure that we can rely on the data that they provide. We have to ground our policies on the real situation. Hindi rin pwedeng magkakaiba tayo ng interpretation ng mga terms na ginagamit (We cannot have varying interpretations of the terms being used).”
“Lives are at stake. The secretary has to shape up or ship out,” she said of Duque.
Duque came under fire again for declaring in a Senate inquiry last Wednesday (May 20) that Philippines is “actually” experiencing the second wave of the COVID-19 spread and that the country has already flattened the curve after the first three cases of the coronavirus infection in January.
Palace officials, however, negated Duque and bared that the latter’s pronouncements were not communicated with the President.
In the same hearing, Duque claimed that asymptomatic patients are not contagious. Senators countered this on Thursday by citing statements from the World Health Organization and the DOH itself saying otherwise.
Last month, 14 senators filed a resolution asking Duque to resign for his “failure of leadership, negligence, lack of foresight and inefficiency” in handling the COVID-19 crisis in the country.
Duque’s performance, they said, supposedly resulted in the “poor planning, delayed response, lack of transparency, and misguided and flip-flopping policies and measures in addressing the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Duterte turned down the senators’ call.