PH Health Dep’t expresses support for controversial chief Duque

Secretary Francisco Duque III. Photo: Department of Health/FB
Secretary Francisco Duque III. Photo: Department of Health/FB

The Department of Health continues to support its embattled chief Secretary Francisco Duque, whom President Rodrigo Duterte urged in a publicly broadcast briefing to stay in his position.

Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said in an online presser today that Duque will be their chief as long as Duterte believes in him.

“The secretary serves at the pleasure of the president. As long as the president still trusts him and as long as the president tells him to continue to work, he will continue to work,” the undersecretary said in English and Filipino.

Read: Health Secretary and PhilHealth Chair Duque claims he has ‘zero tolerance for corruption’

“The entire Department of Health is behind him. We are supporting him and he has given us the direction and the leadership for this [anti-coronavirus] response and hopefully, there will be unified support for those who are leading us against this pandemic,” she added.

Duterte divulged earlier this week that he had heard rumors that Duque intends to resign. He told the health secretary that this was “not the time” for Duque to leave the government and that he has “full trust” in him.

Read: ‘I don’t understand’: Health Secretary Duque baffled by senators’ calls for resignation

Senator Christopher “Bong” Go, a close confidant of the president, said yesterday that Duque was emotionally distraught over allegations that he allowed corruption to fester at the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth), where he sits at the board. Go said that Duque was ready to resign, especially after senators investigating the case recommended that he be charged for the PhilHealth scandal.

The state insurer is being probed for allegations that at least PHP154 billion (US$3 billion) has been stolen from its coffers by a so-called mafia which was led by ex-president Ricardo Morales. Morales has left the agency due to supposed health problems, but senators have likewise recommended filing criminal charges against him.

Read: 6 PhilHealth vice presidents go on leave as corruption probe continues

Meanwhile, Vergeire clarified that the Philippines intends to buy an approved vaccine that is reasonably priced as well as safe and effective. She said this in reaction to Duterte’s earlier declaration that the Philippines will buy the cheapest vaccine because his government is running out of cash. He also alleged that all anti-coronavirus vaccines are created equal.

Duterte, who volunteered to be subjected to a clinical trial, also claimed that a vaccine would be available this month.

“For now, the government is in that phase where we are trying to map out and scope all of these manufacturers and developers who are coming to us, with some from abroad. Of course, what we want is the best for our population that’s why we are trying to negotiate with all of our manufacturers,” Vergeire said.

Read: You First: Duterte to get shot of Sputnik V on May 2021 after joint clinical trials

She added that any vaccine that the government will procure has to go through the proper regulatory process with the local Food and Drug Administration to determine if it does not pose any health hazards to patients.

“When we buy a vaccine, the first issue is safety, efficacy, and effectiveness. Price is not the only basis, but of course, the price would always matter,” Vergeire said.

“If that is the cheapest and we saw that it is safe and efficacious, the government will buy that because that is the objective of government procurement,” she added.




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