TABLE FOR TWO President Rodrigo Duterte discusses matters with Health Secretary Francisco Duque 3rd while presiding over a meeting with core members of the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases at the Malacañang Golf (Malago) Clubhouse in Malacañang Park, Manila on Aug. 24, 2021. MALACAÑANG PHOTO
President Rodrigo Duterte on Tuesday said he would never fire Health Secretary Francisco Duque 3rd but would accept if the embattled official offered his resignation.
Duque was in hot water after the Commission on Audit flagged numerous deficiencies in the Department of Health’s (DoH) spending.
“Now, if Duque offers to resign voluntarily, I will accept it but for me to tell him to resign – that would never happen,” Duterte said in a prerecorded public address aired on Tuesday night.
Duterte said last week that he had turned down Duque’s offer to quit twice and would reject outright any offer to resign from the Health chief.
“But if I see something wrong in your spending, even if it’s only P10,000 or P5,000, I will really get rid of you because you’re making me look bad before the people. I put you in that post, and then you will destroy me,” he said.
Duterte reiterated that he would stand by Duque even if it would bring him down.
“You don’t do that to a person who has done nothing wrong. I may have been bad in my life but there are certain boundaries I would not cross,” he added.
Duque said the DoH has allocated P311 million for the special risk allowance (SRA) of some 20,000 health care workers covering the period of Dec. 1, 2020 to June 30, 2021, in compliance with Duterte’s order last week to release the SRA due medical frontliners within 10 days.
“We have already submitted all the required documents for the disbursement of the P311 million special risk allowance of 20,156 health care workers,” Duque said.
Duque said the funds would be released for distribution to various hospitals as soon as the DoH received the special allowance release order from the Department of Budget and Management.
Meanwhile, several senators expressed their sentiments on Duterte’s continuous defense of Duque.
“I don’t get it as most Filipinos won’t understand this latest presidential ‘pakulo’ (gimmickry),” Sen. Panfilo Lacson said in a text message.
“Most presidents all over the world would simply send a message to an appointee to file his letter of resignation and give him the opportunity to exit with dignity and grace,” he said, adding: “That is the usual dramatics involved when the appointing power wants to spare a Cabinet member the humiliation of getting the boot. I really don’t get it.”
Sen. Ana Theresia “Risa” Hontiveros said Duque should take Duterte’s latest remark “as a signal and offer to resign to give way to somebody more competent who can steer us out of this pandemic.”
“But with the President’s ever-changing pronouncements, it seems that he is only publicly giving the secretary of health a graceful exit,” Hontiveros said.
Sen. Mary Grace Poe said under Presidential Decree 1445 or the “Auditing Code of the Philippines,” government resources “should be managed in accordance with the law and regulations and that the resources should be safeguarded against loss or wastage.”
The senator added that the responsibility to ensure that such policy is faithfully adhered to rests directly on the head of the government agency concerned.
“So, you can’t always delegate to your co-workers. The head of the agency is directly responsible,” Poe said during the resumption of the Senate probe on the DoH’s expenditures on the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic.
Poe also reminded that the Office of the Ombudsman had ordered in 2020 the suspension of eight Philippine Health Insurance Corp. executives for six months without pay in connection with the alleged irregular release of P2.7 million from the state insurer’s interim reimbursement mechanism.
“I agree with the Ombudsman. Somebody must indeed be held accountable so this will not be repeated,” Poe stressed.
Sen. Maria Josefa Imelda “Imee” Marcos, on the other hand, said the President “is a reasonable man and a highly experienced prosecutor who bases his decisions on available evidence.
“He has probably read through the documents and testimonies, found a basis for suspicion or at least further investigation, and has hence changed his mind,” Marcos said.
‘No anomaly in DoH to DBM fund transfer’
Meanwhile, former undersecretary Lloyd Christopher Lao of the DBM Procurement Services (DBM-PS) denied any anomaly in the utilization of Covid-19 pandemic response funds before the Senate blue ribbon committee headed by Sen. Richard Gordon.
Lao was being questioned for the undocumented transfer of P42 billion from the DoH to the DBM.
Lao told the Senate panel that all purchases during his watch were documented.
But Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon told Lao there is violation of the implementing rules of Republic Act 9184 or the “Government Procurement Reform Act” when the DoH failed to sign a memorandum of agreement with the DBM-PS for the transfer of P42 billion.
“I am sorry, but what you’re saying is contrary to the implementing rules and regulations of the Procurement Act. There is nothing there, which dispenses with a memorandum of agreement, which is necessary so that there can be a documentary tracing of this disbursement of P42 billion,” Drilon said.
Sen. Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go denied anew any association with Lao.
“I wish to clarify that contrary to claims of some personalities and news outlets, former USec. Lloyd Christopher Lao of the DBM Procurement Services was never my aide. To call him such is inaccurate. Lao did not directly report to me, nor did he ever serve as my aide, Go said.
Go added that Lao, who served as President Duterte’s volunteer election lawyer in 2016, was appointed to the Presidential Management Staff at the start of the Chief Executive’s term until early 2017 before being appointed to Housing and Land Use Regulatory Board, before finally being named to lead the DBM-PS.
WITH BERNADETTE TAMAYO AND JAVIER JOE ISMAEL