By Genalyn Kabiling
A new health undersecretary for special concerns has been appointed because President Duterte wanted a reliable person inside the department, Malacañang said Monday.
Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said the President was disappointed with the delay in the distribution of benefits intended for health workers under the Bayanihan law, and decided to appoint a dependable person to the Department of Health.
The President recently named Dr. Leopoldo Vega, chief of the Southern Philippines Medical Center, as undersecretary at the Department of Health. His appointment came amid calls from some lawmakers and concerned groups for the removal of Health Secretary Francisco Duque III for allegedly mishandling the government’s coronavirus response.
“Hindi ko alam kung kapalit siya ni Secretary pero ang konteksto ng pag-appoint when I was in Davao, (is that) the President was very unhappy with the delay. Hindi po talaga natuwa ang Presidente sa delay ng pagbigay ng mga frontliners na namatay at nagkasakit,” Roque said in a televised press briefing when asked if Vega will eventually take the place of Duque.
“Sabi niya kinakailangan magkaroon ng isang maasahan tao dyan sa DOH (He said there must be a dependable person in the DOH) and that was Undersecretary Vega,” he added.
He said the President was all praises for Vega after he spearheaded the modernization of Southern Philippines Medical Center.
In the same televised press conference, Vega has pledged to ensure smooth government coordination in containing the coronavirus outbreak. He said the health department must be able to respond to the needs and services of the community.
“I’m very humbled and honored for the trust and confidence na ibinigay sa akin ni President … Pangulong Rodrigo Duterte. And I’m taking the challenge for this kind of new field of work in my capacity,” he said.
The President has so far kept Duque in his post despite controversies hounding him, from his his pronouncement about the country’s second wave coronavirus transmission that was debunked by the Palace as well as the purchase of alleged overpriced medical equipment.
Recently, the President spared Duque and instead threatened to fire other officials over delay in the distribution of benefits of health workers who died or fallen ill due to the coronavirus. The President said it was “totally unacceptable” that the death and sickness benefits have not been given to the health workers since the Bayanihan law was signed last March.