Senators demand Secretary Duque’s resignation for ‘failure of leadership’ amid COVID-19 pandemic (updated)

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Several senators, including close allies of President Rodrigo Duterte, on Thursday filed a resolution demanding for the immediate resignation of Health Secretary Francisco Duque III amid the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic.

The 14 signatories of P.S. Resolution No. 362 said the Department of Health (DOH) secretary must step down “for his failure of leadership, negligence, lack of foresight, and inefficiency in the performance of his mandate,” as the Philippines continues to grapple with the contagion.

Duque’s shortcomings resulted in “poor planning, delayed response, lack of transparency, and misguided and flip-flopping policies” for COVID-19, said the senators.

“Knowing fully well the danger posed by the COVID-19 pandemic in the beginning of the year, Secretary Duque failed to put in place the necessary precautionary measures to lessen, if not at all prevent, the impact of this health crisis,” said the resolution.

Senate President Vicente Sotto III, Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto, Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri, Senators Sonny Angara, Nancy Binay, Sherwin Gatchalian, Grace Poe, Joel Villanueva, Francis Tolentino, Imee Marcos, Ronald “Bato” Dela Rosa, Bong Revilla, Manny Pacquiao, Lito Lapid, and Panfilo Lacson signed the said resolution.

Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto’s name was also on the resolution but his signature was not affixed.

Sotto said Recto was also a co-author.

“Whether he is removed or not, status quo cannot continue if we want to defeat the virus. Kelangan mas bibo ang liderato dito laban sa virus,” Angara said in a statement.

“We were late for testing, contact tracing is almost non-existent, hospitals short of protective gear — we need to be better. Buhay ng mga Pilipino ang nakasalalay dito,” he added.

Lacson said the Senate will not endorse any replacement for Duque should he resign.

“We all agreed not to recommend any replacement. In case he quits, it is all up to the president, being the appointing authority. We are simply for a competent Secretary of Health. Take note: not more competent, but simply a competent one at the helm,” Lacson said.

The senators said that the DOH’s lack of foresight in timely recommending the banning of flights to and from China; lack of coordination with the aviation authorities; and failure to alert the medical community and the public that there were already patients admitted in health facilities exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms in the previous months showed Duque’s supposed incompetence in handling the crisis.

The DOH’s alleged failures to stockpile on PCR-based test kits to make it available for more Filipinos; to provide adequate Personal Protective Equipment (PPEs) for healthcare workers; and to expeditiously act in facilitating the accreditation of testing centers were also cited in the resolution.

Duterte’s spokesperson, Harry Roque, said Malacañang has no position yet on the senators’ call.

Roque, however, said a Cabinet member serves at the pleasure of the President.

“Every Cabinet member serves at the pleasure of the President and habang hindi sila tinatanggal, the President continues to have full trust and confidence in them,” he said in a televised briefing.

Before being appointed as DOH chief in 2017, Duque held the same post from 2005 to 2010.

In response,  Duque said, “We are at war with an invisible enemy which to this day remains unpredictable. As such, we adapt and innovate. Despite all the challenges and limited resources, DOH is making sure that we, as a nation, have a fighting chance against COVID-19. This is not a fight of one man or of one agency, it is a fight for all of us Filipinos.”

“We will answer these allegations in due time, but right now, we will continue to be in the trenches with our health care workers and frontliners. Let us work as a team, as one country fighting for the health and safety of all. I will continue to serve the country to the best of my abilities. Magtulungan po tayo,” Duque said./Stacy Ang

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