By Martin Sadongdong and Ellalyn De Vera-Ruiz
Dr. Tony Leachon, adviser to the National Task Force (NTF) fighting COVID-19, announced on Wednesday that he was asked to resign his post.
“It’s with deepest regret that I announce that I am not anymore the special adviser of National Task Force COVID-19 effective today,” Leachon said in a tweet.
Leachon said he gives his “full respect” to Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr., chief implementer of the national task force.
The physician said his resignation followed a series of criticisms he said about the Department of Health (DOH) and Secretary Francisco Duque III.
A day before President Duterte announced Malacañang’s decision on the community quarantine in the country, he said in one of his tweets that “the lead agency (DOH) has lost focus in everything–risk communication, priorities, data management, and execution of all plans.”
In another earlier tweet, Leachon commended the IATF and the NTF for “working hard” but he is “frustrated with the lack of sense of urgency of the DOH leadership in data management.”
He had been urging the DOH to set a clear deadline for the processing of data backlog to move forward with collecting real-time and granular data.
Leachon had been pointing out that real-time and granular or more detailed data are critical to policy-making function of the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases.
In a separate message to the Manila Bulletin, Leachon said it was “painful” for him to leave the national task force especially since the country is still dealing with the on-going health crisis.
“I left due to my differences with DOH policies, e.g. lack of sense of urgency, problems in COVID data, and transparency in communication process. I have to align my true north,” he said.
Nonetheless, Leachon said he admires the dedication of Galvez, as well as Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana and Interior and Local Government Secretary Eduardo Ano, the respective chairperson and deputy chair of the national action plan (NAP) on COVID-19.
Meanwhile, Leachon explained in an interview over CNN Philippines that his vocal criticism on Duque and the Health department, which he posted in his Twitter account, was “an episodic emotional outburst as a private citizen.”
On June 15, the doctor wrote this cryptic tweet: “Most of us avoid telling the truth because it’s uncomfortable. We’re afraid of the consequences—making others feel uncomfortable, hurting their feelings or risking their anger. And yet, when we don’t tell the truth, and others don’t tell us the truth, we can’t deal with reality.”
However, Leachon clarified that his tweets are “constructive criticisms” for Duque and the DOH to step up their performance.
“I was asked not to speak about my independent views but I think it will be helpful to the country,” he said.
The health reform advocate further stressed that his matter of communication to the public “may not be in line with the communication strategy of the Palace.”
He said Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque and Duque talked to Galvez about his opinions.
“Hindi nila nagustuhan (They didn’t like it),” he said.
“I think I was asked to resign, ‘yun ang real (that’s what’s real). Pero it’s an acceptance on my part, nahihiya akong maging pabigat kay Secretary Galvez (But it’s an acceptance on my part, I don’t want to be a burden to Sec. Galvez), he noted.
As a special adviser, Leachon was being consulted by the national task force in its strategies to better address the COVID-19 pandemic.
Leachon said he was involved in analyzing and consolidating all the data coming from the DOH and other sources, such as health experts and epidemiologists.
Despite his criticisms, Leachon clarified that he wasn’t asking for Duque to resign, just to “take a step back and rethink his strategies.”
“Things are not working right now, maraming (there are a lot of) complaints against the department. You need to step back and re-analyze,” he said.
As of this writing, Galvez and the National Task Force have yet to issue a comment on the issue. Likewise, Duque and the DOH have also yet to air their side on the criticisms of Leachon.