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Angara: DOH's pre-pandemic weaknesses haunting COVID-19 response

The shortcomings of the Department of Health (DOH) long before the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) hit the Philippines are affecting the country's response efforts against the outbreak, Senator Sonny Angara said on Thursday.

The lawmaker, who signed the Senate resolution asking for Health Secretary Duque's resignation, said that the DOH has always received a big chunk of the national budget in recent years but there seems to be failures on effective utilization of such.

"They're very good at procuring medicine but in terms of populating our rural health units, in terms of populating our government hospitals, in terms of hiring new doctors to be in the provinces, we're not so good," Angara said in a virtual presser.

"Now, in the middle of the pandemic, the DOH has made the call to hire 17,000 people which should have been done two or three years ago, actually because the money had already been appropriated by Congress for that purpose," he added.

Angara also lamented the DOH's alleged lack of full knowledge on-ground information such as the location of provinces needing more medical intervention and investment.

"That kind of granular information is still wanting, to be honest. That's the situation pre-pandemic or pre-coronavirus," Angara said.

"With the coronavirus really in full bloom or close to its peak, we're seeing the weakness of this lack of granular information and the weakness of the past coming back to haunt us," he added.

Angara admitted that asking for Duque's resignation amid a health crisis has not been an easy decision among the senators.

"There was some internal debate among the senators whether the timing was right... but then the complaints have mounted so much to an extent that we could no longer stem the tide," he said.

"The status quo was unacceptable... We need a problem solver and crisis manager at this stage of the game. Nothing personal against the Secretary but it's a very unusual time and perhaps it called for special talents as well," he added.

Last week, several senators—including close allies of President Rodrigo Duterte—called for the DOH chief's immediate resignation for alleged failure of leadership in handling the COVID-19 crisis.

In response, Duque said he would continue to lead the DOH as long as he has the full trust of Duterte and that he would answer the allegations against him in due time.

The Palace, meanwhile, said Duque should "stay put" as a Cabinet member. —LDF, GMA News