COVID-19 response 'different' if senators' call to replace Duque was heeded — Pangilinan

Published November 8, 2021, 1:51 PM

by Raymund Antonio

The country’s COVID-19 response results would have been different if the Executive Department listened to the senators’ request as early as April 2020 to let embattled Health Secretary Francisco Duque III resign, Senator Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan on Monday, November 8 said.

Senator Francis Pangilinan and Health Secretary Francisco Duque III (FILE PHOTO / PCOO / MANILA BULLETIN)

The senator, who is the running mate of Vice President Leni Robredo, criticized the “lack of leadership” in the Department of Health (DOH), saying that that 15 senators back in April 2020 have already called on President Duterte to replace the Health chief.

The Chief Executive, however, dismissed the calls and came to Duque’s defense.

Despite not dropping his name, Pangilinan called the DOH secretary’s response to the pandemic “incompetent” and “complacent.”

“Kung pinakinggan sana ito ng liderato sa Executive Department na April 2020 pa lang, kung nag desisyon na dapat mag-let go na eh baka iba ang naging resulta ng ating COVID response (If the leadership in the Executive Department listened as early as April 2020, if it decided to let go, we could have had a different result in our COVID response),” he said during a presser at the Office of the Vice President (OVP) in Quezon City.

READ: Duterte vows to ‘stand by’ Duque: ‘Pag nasira ako, eh ‘di nasira’

Pangilinan stressed there was “a lack of urgency” on the part of the embattled secretary, who, during a Senate hearing in February last year, was unaware where the 90 persons under investigation—or COVID-19 symptomatic persons—originally came from.

It was only after confirming with his staff when he learned that 31 of those 90 patients came from Wuhan, a province in China where the coronavirus was first detected.

“We asked about contact tracing, but they didn’t do it because the patients were discharged from the hospital. From that, you can see that there is a lack of leadership and the serious response to COVID,” the senator said in Filipino.

He lamented that only 17 percent of the original passengers in the flight that brought the first COVID-19 patient in the country were contact-traced. Duque wasn’t even aware of that information before the senators asked him.

“Abril pa lamang hinihingi na sa Senado na siya ay palitan pero ‘di ito dininig (The Senate has been asking to replace him since April [last year] but we were not heard),” Pangilinan stated.

His remark came after Robredo said she will appoint a new Secretary of Health if she wins as president because the country needs a “competent” DOH chief.

READ: Duque out if Robredo wins; VP says new DOH chief must be ‘competent, accountable’

Aside from Duque’s incompetence, the senator also agreed with the Vice President that corruption was at the root of the government’s slow response to COVID.

“Actually, nakita natin sa hearing ng blue ribbon kung saan nagkulang ang gobyerno. Naging layunin ng ilan sa gobyerno pagkakitaan ang COVID (we saw from the hearing of the blue ribbon where the government is lacking. The goal of some in the government has been to profit from COVID),” Pangilinan said.

He was referring to the Senate blue ribbon committee headed by Senator Richard Gordon on Pharmally Pharmaceuticals Inc., the small-time company that bagged almost P10 billion worth of government contracts.

“Corruption doon tayo nagkulang at dapat managot ang mga involved dito (Corruption that’s where we lacked and those involved here should be accountable,” he said.