Calls for Health Secretary Francisco Duque III‘s resignation reemerged after President Rodrigo Duterte said in his weekly speech Monday that he does not find a “good reason” to prosecute him over alleged anomalies involving PhilHealth.
The chief executive shared that he has been advised to let go of the chief public authority on health but he stressed that the latter is an “innocent man.”
“Secretary Duque is a hardworking government worker and they say that… Well, there has been a lot of things I have heard, I have read na—and even some advice na si—dapat daw si Duque, ikaw sir, ilaglag ko na because hindi maganda sa aking administration,” Duterte said in his national address aired October 5.
“You know, may mga tao na puwedeng ganun. You go for the safe side. And there are a lot of people who do it ‘yang gusto na lang nila na mawalaan na ng problema. Ah basta na lang, ‘O sige, paalisin mo na lang sabihin mo.’ Ako po’y hindi ganun. Ako’y abugado and I know what is probable cause and prima facie,” he added.
Duterte said he has done a “cursory reading” of the findings of the alleged corruption involving the state health insurer and added that he couldn’t find a reason to prosecute Duque, who also serves as its ex-officio chairperson.
The health chief was reportedly not included in the initial complaint.
The task force assigned to investigation the corruption allegations, meanwhile, recommended that senior PhilHealth officials be charged with graft, malversation of public funds and failure to file withholding taxes on reimbursements given in advance to several hospitals.
Duque was spared and was only recommended to be “strongly admonished” for the offenses attributed to the officials.
PhilHealth has been hounded with allegations concerning billions of funds lost to fraudulent activities such as the purchase of overpriced coronavirus test kits, unauthorized release of funds to hospitals that have not yet logged coronavirus infections, and the overstating of hospital claims to the health insurer.
Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said that Duterte’s words about Duque on his speech was an “expression of trust” and “not of exoneration” from the allegations.
Duque as health chief
Some Filipinos, meanwhile, were not too keen about the president’s continued trust toward the health chief as broadcasted on his latest national address.
“Let’s not talk about innocence or guilt then. How about just letting him go for not doing his good job well as health secretary during a pandemic?” a Twitter user said in response to a quote card of Duterte defending Duque on the PhilHealth mess.
Duque has been called to resign several times over his performance in handling the COVID-19 pandemic in the country, which administration-allied lawmakers said showed his “lack of competence, efficiency, and foresight bordering on negligence.”
Last August, Filipinos, including Sen. Ping Lacson, showed “receipts” of how the health chief has been handling the public health crisis especially at its earliest months, which they believe was crucial in avoiding a full-blown local outbreak.
This month, the Philippines entered the top 20 list of countries with the highest number of COVID-19 cases despite being in quarantine for more than 200 days already.
Duque, especially in the first months of the pandemic, was reluctant about the idea of imposing a travel ban on China despite it being the initial epicenter of the outbreak.
Lacson also questioned him over the need to buy testing equipment costlier than what the private sector was using.
The DOH was likewise accused of previously failing to secure sufficient personal protective equipment suits for its workers who are on the frontlines of the public health crisis.
In June and July, calls for his resignation grew as critics denounced the agency’s policies that were not mitigating the continuous rise of cases. Duque’s claims that the government was already flattening the epidemic curve was also widely panned.
Demand for his resignation also mounted when Duque denounced his subordinates on national television after DOH failed to give cash assistance to infected and deceased frontliners in relation to COVID-19.
The agency was accused of prioritizing various public officials in the COVID-19 testing despite being asymptomatic at a time when test kits were insufficient.
Last month, it was revealed that Duque has deep ties with Duterte. The former’s older brother, lawyer Gonzalo “Gonz” Duque, enjoys a “deep friendship” with the president.
The health chief’s family, according to VERA Files, has close connections with the Macapagals.
Duque’s father, Francisco Duque Jr., was the appointed health secretary under former President Diosdado Macapagal’s administration, who in turn was Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s father.
When Macapagal-Arroyo became president, she returned the favor and appointed the younger Duque as the health secretary from 2005 to 2009.