By Genalyn Kabiling
Embattled Health Secretary Francisco Duque III did not get the pink slip from President Duterte and instead was given some advice on how to deal with criticism Monday night.
The President has advised Duque III not be “touchy” about criticism hurled against him and urged him instead to stick to his convictions even if they are unpopular.
Duterte made the remarks after the health secretary’s controversial “second wave” pronouncement that was later disputed by other government officials. The Palace, after consulting with other health experts, clarified that the country is actually still dealing with the first wave of infections and is taking steps to battle another sharp surge of cases.
“Alam mo, huwag ka masyadong touchy sa mga issues (You know, don’t be too touchy on issues) because always there will be pros and cons. Pakinggan na lang natin (Let’s listen to them) because this is democracy,” Duterte told Duque in a meeting with top officials on the coronavirus response aired on state television late Monday night.
“But democracy, there is the favor of attacks, issues, plus attacking the guy personally. I know you are hard-pressed, I know your situation. You just tell us if that is the one that’s in your gray matter in between your ears. E di sabihin mo, kung ayaw ninyo maniwala, bahala kayo, basta ito ang akin (Tell them if they don’t believe you that’s up to them, but this is my position),” he said.
“Maybe you should adopt that kind of attitude. So be it. If I committed a wrong, as long as there is no malice there,” he added.
Before making this comment, the President asked Duque about the country’s real coronavirus situation after noticing the spike in the cases of infections.
“Are we on the second, third, fourth, fifth wave, or no wave at all?” he asked.
Duque told the President that the country is actually still on the “first major wave of sustained community transmission.” He said his second wave declaration was based on an article published by epidemiologist Dr. John Wong, one of the expert advisers of the government task force.
“Dr. John Wong sits as one of the expert advisers of the Inter-agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Disease. And to him, as an epidemiologist, a top epidemiologist, he considers the three first cases in the Philippines, although imported, would represent a minor wave. Maliit na wave lang ho siya, sir,” Duque said.
“Tapos nagkaroon po tayo ng (Then there was a) lull of about a month, the whole of February. And then March nagkaroon ho tayo ng mga umpisang (we started to have) reported cases,” he added.
Some lawmakers and concerned groups have called for the removal of Duque over the alleged mishandling of the coronavirus response and alleged blunders such as the “second wave” statement.
The Palace earlier said Duque will answer the allegations in the proper forum, but for now should be allowed to perform his job during the global health emergency. The health chief also enjoys the trust and confidence of the President unless otherwise stated, it said.