‘Failure of Leadership’: Senators urge Duque to resign amid rising COVID-19 cases

Health Secretary Francisco Duque. Photo: ABS-CBN News
Health Secretary Francisco Duque. Photo: ABS-CBN News

Fifteen senators filed a resolution today calling for the immediate resignation of Health Secretary Francisco Duque III, whom they accused of “negligence” which resulted in the deaths of hundreds of Filipinos from COVID-19.

The lawmakers said that Duque’s “failure of leadership,” “lack of foresight,” and “inefficiency” could be blamed for the Department of Health’s (DOH) “poor planning, delayed response, lack of transparency, and misguided and flip-flopping policies” in addressing the pandemic.

The senators added that during a Jan. 29 hearing at the House of Representatives, Duque said that while the DOH is considering banning incoming flights from China, they have to be “very careful also of possible repercussions” because not all COVID-19 cases are from that country.

The resolution said that on Jan. 30, the DOH reported the first COVID-19 cases in the Philippines, a 38-year-old Chinese woman from Wuhan who traveled with her 44-year-old husband to Cebu and Dumaguete. The latter died of the disease weeks later.

During a Senate hearing on Feb. 4, Duque confessed to the lawmakers that the DOH had only tracked down 17 percent of the couple’s co-passengers and that his team was unable to conduct contract tracing efficiently.

“[D]ue to the lack of coordination with the Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB) and the Civil Aviation Authority (CAAP) by the DOH, the contact tracing was hampered and delayed, possibly resulting in the failure to prevent the initial spreading of the virus,” the Senate resolution said.

The senators also alleged that Duque “failed to alert the medical community and fundamentally, the public, that there were already patients admitted in health facilities admitting COVID-19 symptoms, insisting in his press conferences that the Philippines had zero cases of local transmission, thus exposing many Filipinos, especially healthcare workers to the dangers of the disease.”

They also accused the DOH of its failure to immediately announce the number of COVID-19 cases from March 8 to 10. They also alleged that the DOH has failed to provide enough personal protective equipment (PPE) to healthcare workers and that it did not stockpile enough testing kits that could be made available to the public.

They alleged that the DOH has failed to provide enough PPEs for the National Center for Mental Health, which resulted in several of its staff and patients getting infected with the coronavirus. They also called out the Health Department for its initial plan to pay PHP500 (US$10) per day to volunteer healthcare workers, and said that the medical community “felt insulted with such little consideration in exchange for putting themselves in harm’s way.”

The lawmakers also criticized Duque for claiming last week that the Philippines has a “low” number of COVID-19 cases.

“In truth, however, we are lagging behind other nations in terms of testing capacity, and as of this writing, the country ranks first with the most number of COVID-19 cases in Southeast Asia despite the fact that we have yet to roll out mass testing,” they said.

The resolution was signed by senators Vicente Sotto, Nancy Binay, Francis Tolentino, Joel Villanueva, Juan Miguel Zubiri, and Sonny Angara, among others. Zubiri and Angara have recently recovered after getting infected with the coronavirus.

Almost 400 people have died of COVID-19 in the Philippines, and the country has one of the highest case-fatality rates in the world. An organization called Deep Knowledge Group ranked the Philippines ninth in the riskiest countries to be in during the coronavirus pandemic, the highest ranking of a Southeast Asian nation.




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