When did one’s financial standing stop an official from stealing from the government’s coffers?
President Rodrigo Duterte believes that there is no truth to allegations that Health Secretary Francisco Duque has committed corruption because the latter is just too rich, making him incapable of the dastardly deed, Spokesman Harry Roque said today in an interview with CNN Philippines.
Duterte said last night in a televised speech that he still believes in Duque, despite Ombudsman Samuel Martires’ ongoing probe of the Department of Health (DOH) chief. Duterte said that he stands by Duque, and will “stake” (“itaya“) his reputation by defending the much-maligned government official, whom politicians have urged to temporarily leave his post while the ombudsman’s probe is ongoing.
When asked to explain why Duterte continues to trust Duque, Roque cited the president’s strong relationship with the DOH secretary’s brother, lawyer Gonz Duque, whom the president once appointed as the chief of the Philippine Coconut Authority in 2019.
“As a matter of personal knowledge, he is very close to the brother of Secretary Duque, Attorney Gonz Duque,” Roque said.
“Attorney Gonz Duque was the only one who welcomed the President in Dagupan City when he ran as president. And of course, the friendship of the President and Attorney Duque goes way back from his presidency. They’ve known each other for a long time, they are both San Beda Law graduates. I can only say that they have a very close and deep friendship,” Roque added.
Despite Duterte’s closeness with Gonz, he barely knows Secretary Duque. Despite this, the president believes that it was just not possible that Secretary Duque would commit graft because his family owns several properties in his hometown of Dagupan City.
“When he appointed Secretary Duque, he only met him once in a hotel by accident. And it is the brother whom he knows very well. He also knows the family, they’re very wealthy: they own a school, a university, and various other businesses in Dagupan. And that the Duques don’t have to steal from [the] government because they’re already affluent,” Roque explained.
The president believes that Secretary Duque had done nothing questionable in the DOH, according to Roque.
“He believes in the integrity of Secretary Duque because he doesn’t see anything that has been criminally committed by Secretary Duque himself. He has said that people make mistakes and for as long as these are honest mistakes he’s willing to go beyond these mistakes,” Roque said.
“But as a matter of integrity, he believes that the Duque family will not steal, he knows their background very well, not only are they affluent but they also have their values,” he added.
Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said that the ombudsman’s investigation has led to the deterioration of the DOH staff’s morale. However, Martires had insisted on a separate CNN interview that someone must be made accountable for the various lapses that the Health Department has committed in its COVID-19 response.
Secretary Duque has borne the brunt of public criticism since the first COVID-19 patient was discovered in the country. Several lawmakers had asked the DOH chief to resign in April, alleging that his “failure of leadership” led to the government’s “poor planning, delayed response, lack of transparency, and misguided and flip-flopping policies.”
Shortly after that, Senator Sonny Angara, a recovered COVID-19 patient, divulged that families of frontliners who had died of the disease have yet to receive their promised financial assistance. Instead of owning up to it, Secretary Duque blamed his staff in a publicly broadcast meeting with Duterte.
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