Duterte defends Duque, says DOH chief is doing his job

President Duterte came to the defense of Health Secretary Francisco Duque III anew amid criticisms on how the Department of Health (DOH) is handling the COVID-19 pandemic.

President Rodrigo Roa Duterte confers with Health Secretary Francisco Duque III during a meeting with the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases at the Malacañan Palace on March 9, 2020. (PCOO / MANILA BULLETIN FILE PHOTO)

In his late-night public address, President Duterte said he has known Duque since the time of former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and he would not have appointed him if he was incompetent.

"Alam mo (You know), trust is not --- you know --- is not press release," he said.

"Nakita ko to si Secretary Duque in the many meetings we had. Nakita ko siyang nagtatrabaho. Nagtatrabaho 'yung tao (In the many meetings that we had, I saw Secretary Duque and he was working. The man is doing his job)," he added.

According to Duterte, there was no country that could have prepared for a pandemic and that even the Philippines was only warned of it two days before COVID-19 actually became widespread.

"Nobody dito sa mundong ito (Nobody in this world) was really or were prepared for it. Iyang pandemic, it comes about once in a century. Kaya walang hospital na magagawa ka ng limang hospital in anticipation of the next. Hindi ganoon ‘yan eh (That's why no hospital can ever anticipate the next pandemic. That's not how it works)," the President said.

"Hindi natin akalain na (We never imagined that) in two days’ time after the warning was given by the WHO (World Health Organization) that it is a virulent fast-moving microbe and we were all advised to take precautions," he added.

The President said he immediately convened the Inter-agency Task Force (IATF) for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases "to deal with the problem."

The Office of the Ombudsman is investigating the DOH's alleged lapses and irregularities in responding to the global health crisis. These include the delays in the procurement of personal protective equipment and other medical gear for health workers, deaths of health workers, delays in the processing and release of death and sick benefits for medical workers who died or got severely ill due to COVID-19, and the confusing and delayed reporting of COVID-19 cases and deaths.

To date, the Philippines has recorded 37,514 coronavirus cases, with 1,266 deaths, and 10,233 recoveries. (Argyll Cyrus B. Geducos)