By Vanne Elaine Terrazola
Senate President Vicente Sotto III is “tired” of talking about Health Secretary Francisco Duque III.
The Senate leader expressed his apparent frustration at Duque’s firm stance despite the persistent calls for his resignation due to his blunders in handling the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I’m tired of giving comments re[garding] Sec[retary] Duque because it merely falls on deaf ears,” Sotto said in a text message on Friday, June 19.
While maintaining that resignation is still Duque’s call, Sotto said “he should save the President from any predicament or responsibility in his tenure.”
Senator Francis Pangilinan reiterated the need for the Department of Health (DOH) chief to step down.
“Si Duque ang matagal ng pinagre-resign dahil sa palpak at makupad na kilos ng Administrasyong Duterte laban sa COVID pero yung nag-kumpirma ng palpak, makupad at hilong talilong na kilos ng gobyerno ang pinagresign (Duque has long been asked to resign because of slow response of the Duterte administration against COVID-19 but the person who confirmed these failing, slow, and confused actions was the one sacked from his post),” Pangilinan wrote on Facebook, referring to Dr. Tony Leachon, who quit as a special adviser to the National Task Force on COVID-19 while criticizing the DOH’s management of the pandemic.
“I see the need for him to resign,” the opposition senator said in a separate text message sent to reporters.
The Office of the Ombudsman recently announced that it has formed fact-finding teams to look into the alleged irregularities committed by DOH officials, including Duque, in responding to the pandemic.
The Ombudsman will particularly probe the delayed procurement of physical protective equipment (PPEs) and other items needed for the protection of medical frontliners, the reported lapses and irregularities that led to the death of health workers, the department’s inaction in the release and processing of financial assistance to infected and “fallen” medical workers, as well as the “confusing and delayed” reporting of COVID-19 deaths and confirmed cases.
Senators have repeatedly appealed for Duque’s resignation. Last April, they signed a resolution for him to step down for his “failure of leadership, negligence, lack of foresight and inefficiency” in handling the COVID-19 crisis.
President Duterte, however, decided to keep Duque as Health Secretary.
On Thursday, Senator Sherwin Gatchalian said Duque should at least take a leave of absence while the investigation by the Ombudsman is ongoing.
“Because obviously, you can influence the information the Ombudsman will request from the agency. So I think the most appropriate thing to do is take a leave, while the investigation is ongoing,” Gatchalian told reporters in an online meeting.
“To make the investigation impartial, I think the best and the most appropriate thing to do is to take a leave of absence, at the very least,” he said.
The DOH, however, opposed this appeal, saying there is no need for Duque to resign.
“Napakaimportante ho ng isang leader sa isang organisasyon. Kahit po nakaupo lang siya diyan pero kung siya ay nirerespeto at siya ay nakakapagbigay ng kumpiyansa para sa mga tauhan niya, sa tingin ko po kaya gumagaling ang mga tao sa ilalim niya,” Vergeire said on Friday. (A leader is very important in an organization. Even if he is just sitting there, he is respected and gives his people confidence, I think the people in DOH are doing well under his leadership.)
“We have our full support to the Secretary and we still think that he should be retained dito sa kanyang posisyon,” Vergeire said.