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Duque excess baggage

Hananeel Bordey



The crisis posed by the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) has become more difficult for the government with Francisco Duque III as head of the Department of Health (DoH).

Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon pointed out Duque III adds to the nation’s burden instead of easing the load from the pandemic.

“You know, particularly on Duque, the way I see it is that he is an unnecessary weight in the campaign against COVID-19,” Drilon said in a radio interview on Sunday.

Duque along with Philippine Health Insurance Co. (PhilHealth) President and CEO Ricardo Morales are also liable due to the overpriced packages for COVID-19 testing.

Drilon added the need for a major reorganization of PhilHealth as he said he was convinced that there was a “prima facie” evidence that will suggest anomalies inside PhilHealth.

He explained Duque’s latest gaffes have eroded the public’s trust in the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) response against the deadly virus. Duque is chairman of the IATF.

“Public confidence is important so that all IATF directives are followed. If you do not have confidence on those issuing the directives, how would you follow?” he pointed out.

Majority of the members of the Senate have filed a resolution asking Duque to step down from his post due to his failure of leadership, lack of transparency, and misguided and flip-flopping policies which President Rodrigo Duterte did not agree with.

Drilon said it is in the hands of the Chief Executive to fire Duque or not but the lawmaker explained Duque serves as an alter-ego of the President in the government’s moves to address the health crisis.

“The President is the elected political leader while Cabinet members are his representatives. It is his call but he should attend to this problem,” he added.

As a result of President Duterte’s decision, Senator Ronald de la Rosa said senators renewing their call for Duque’s resignation will be a lost cause.

“No more (of further calls for Duque’s resignation) since it becomes humiliating for the Senate if the Health Secretary ignores the call for the second time. Plus the fact that he is being backed up by the President,” De la Rosa said.

Gaffes all too frequent

Just last week, Duque has pronounced an inconsistent stand on the situation of COVOD-19 in the country.

During the Senate’s Committee of the Whole’s hearing on government’s strategies against the COVID-19 health crisis last week, Duque said the Philippines is already experiencing the second wave of COVID-19 in the country.

Citing epidemiologists’ observations, Duque said the first wave happened when the Philippines reported the first three COVID-19 cases.

His statement drew the ire of the public and even Malacañang was quick to contradict the Health Secretary’s statement.

Aside from that, Duque also told the Senate panel that asymptomatic patients cannot transmit the virus to other people.

This was contrary to the World Health Organization’s (WHO) reports which stated that: “some reports have indicated that people with no symptoms can transmit the virus. It is not known yet how often it happens.”

WHO’s April 2 bulletin also stated that “there are few reports of laboratory-confirmed cases who are truly asymptomatic, and to date, there has been no documented asymptomatic transmission. This does not exclude the possibility that it may occur.”

Presumption of trust

Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said if a Cabinet official has not yet been removed from his post, the presumption is he still commands the full trust of the President.

Roque made the remark when asked during a radio interview why Duque, despite his shortcomings, he still remains in Mr. Duterte’s official family.

This despite the fact that in previous occasions he has sacked a number of government officials due to corruption or negligence.

“I honestly do not know but that is a decision reserved for the President, let us not second guess him. What can I say about the President is that he is updated of the news and he acts fast when needed,” Roque said during an interview over radio station DZBB on Saturday.

“The rule of thumb is that if a secretary who serves at the pleasure of the President remains in his post, he still enjoys his trust,” he added.

Roque, in the same interview, maintained that the reason why Duque stated during a Senate hearing that the country is already in the second wave of the pandemic was due to the opinion of health experts who he consulted.

He added that just like lawyers, doctors have one science, one data but different opinions.

In the same interview, Roque said the IATF is currently looking at the latest data on whether it will retain or not the MECQ or modified enhanced community quarantine in the National Capital Region.

To ensure that we can defeat the virus, people should recognize the new normal by wearing mask, frequent washing of the hands and the practice of the minimum health standards, according to Roque.

Duque, Morales may face raps

Earlier, PhilHealth’s Morales justified the packages for COVID-19 testing saying the P8,150 rate was set last March as there were still limited supplies of test kits available in the country.

However, Drilon said PhilHealth officials should have immediately reviewed the packages, emphasizing that the Philippine Red Cross was able to set the price of testing at a lower price.

“They failed to exercise due diligence of the good father of a family,” he said.

Last 22 May, PhilHealth has chopped the cost of the packages for COVID-19 testing.

From P8,150, the cost of the package is now pegged at P4,200.

The DoH is also getting the flak for price controls it suggested on medicine which the industry said would mean P28 billion in potential lost revenues.

Executive Order (EO) 104 will take effect in June and will slash the prices of medicines from the manufacturers’ level but not all prices will be reduced for patients and consumers.

The industry projects its sales to drop by P57 billion from P200 billion once the full price control plan of the DoH is fully implemented.

Projected government revenue losses are broken down into P4 billion in foregone customs duties; P7 billion in lost value added tax (VAT); and P17 billion in corporate taxes.

“The EO does not benefit the public in the end because of the formula used to compute the price adjustments. We appeal that the measure be withdrawn until further studies especially at this time when the government needs funds to fight COVID-19,” the Pharmaceutical and Healthcare Association of the Philippines said.

with Francis T. Wakefield