FIRING LINE: Take leave or resign

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By Robert B. Roque, Jr.

There’s no denying that Health Secretary Francisco Duque III enjoys President Duterte’s trust and confidence to a fault.

Following a series of controversies involving the Department of Health (DOH) ‘s response to the health crisis, and several senators gunning for Duque’s resignation for his supposed failure of leadership, the top health official remains sturdy in his post like a molave tree. There’s just no way to “uproot” him, so it seems.

Days after the Office of the Ombudsman confirmed last week that it began its probe into the alleged corruption and lapses in the COVID-19 response, Malacanang reiterated that Duque continues to enjoy Duterte’s trust.

But for Senator Sherwin Gatchalian, it is only appropriate for Duque to take a leave of absence to ensure an impartial investigation.

Duque should consider it to show a sense of dignity and propriety or “delicadeza”.

The health chief has been taking a lot of flak lately due to the DOH’s seemingly dismal performance.

For one, the delayed payment of benefits to the families of health workers who died in the line of duty is unacceptable.

Duque even blamed this on his subordinates, saying it was shameful that they do not have the “sense of urgency”. Has he ever heard about the principle of command responsibility?

Duque also earned criticisms for claiming that the country is on the second wave of COVID-19 infections.

His pronouncement caused panic and confusion among the public until the DOH had to issue an apology. It later clarified that the country is still on the first wave.

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The Ombudsman is investigating alleged anomalies in the DOH. These include the purchase of 100,000 test kits, the delayed procurement of personal protective equipment (PPE) for government hospitals, the rising number of medical frontliners who got infected and those who died of COVID-19, the delay in the release of financial assistance to healthcare workers, and the confusing and delayed reporting of COVID-19-related deaths and confirmed cases.

Ombudsman Samuel Martires said his office is focused on one goal: “We want to know who is responsible for this. Somebody must be held accountable.”

Whatever the outcome of the probe is, we have to respect it. DOH people should not give investigators the runaround.

If, after the investigation, the Ombudsman finds Duque liable and should be eased out, then so be it. No “palakasan” system, no whitewash.

If the result points to mismanagement, fraud, and corruption, then so be it. We need to get rid of these governmental pandemics during this coronavirus pandemic.

There is no room for these, especially when the world is in a health crisis.

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