By Vanne Elaine Terrazola
Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri admitted on Saturday that he wondered why Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu — and not Health Secretary Francisco Duque III — was tasked to handle the COVID-19 situation in Cebu City.
While saying that he respects President Duterte’s prerogative in choosing Cimatu, Zubiri noted that the problem is a health issue that should be managed by a health expert.
“Personally, hindi dapat si Cimatu ang dinala doon. Anong alam ni Cimatu sa health protocols — magaling na general ‘yon, magaling na secretary — pero dapat ‘yong Health Secretary ang pinadala niya (Personally, I think Cimatu should not be the one sent there. What does he know about health protocols — he’s a competent general, he’s a competent secretary — but the President should have assigned the Health Secretary there). That’s the responsibility of the Health secretary, di ba (isn’t it)?” he said, referring to Duque.
Zubiri surmised that Duterte may have seen Cimatu’s performance, particularly when he led the government’s clean-up and rehabilitation efforts for the Boracay Island and when he tasked the environment secretary to oversee the repatriation of overseas Filipino workers in the Middle East during the tension between the United States and Iran.
“Pero ito nga ay health pandemic (But this is a health crisis). So ‘pag health pandemic, ang go-to department natin ay ang Department of Health (DOH), so nakakapagtaka ba’t pinadala si Sec. Cimatu (Since this is a health crisis, the go-to department should be the DOH, so it’s confusing why was Sec. Cimatu the one assigned for this). But of course that’s the prerogative of the President. Nakita niya kasi performer si Cimatu, na magaling (He saw that Cimatu was a performer, that he was competent),” Zubiri said.
He said Duque and the DOH should take Cimatu’s assignment as a challenge to “step up” in handling the COVID-19 outbreak.
“I think the best way is for the DOH to take responsibility, na kailangan talaga magstep up kami, ‘yong sa contact tracing lalo na sa testing, kailangan damihan (that we need to step up, the contact tracing, especially the testing, we have to improve),” Zubiri said.
Senators have repeatedly slammed Duque for his supposed failure of leadership and negligence in handling the coronavirus pandemic. A resolution calling for his resignation was signed by at least 15 senators last April.
Duterte, however, has also defended his Health Secretary and vouched for his competence several times.
Last June 23, the President appointed Cimatu to oversee and implement the government’s COVID-19 response programs in Cebu City, which recorded over 4,000 cases of coronavirus infections.