Duque must take leave of absence for impartial Ombudsman probe


Health Secretary Francisco Duque III should at least take a leave of absence to give way to an impartial Ombudsman probe on the alleged irregularities in the Department of Health's COVID-19 response, Senator Sherwin Gatchalian said Thursday.

"I think to make the investigation impartial, the best and the most appropriate thing to do is to take a leave of absence at the very least," the senator said in a virtual interview.

He pointed out that Duque's absence from his post while the investigation is ongoing would not hamper efforts against the pandemic, stressing that much of the legwork is being done by the National Task Force Against COVID-19.

"Bulk of the activity is now outside of DOH. Nakita ko marami tayong mga undersecretary na kaya naman pagdating sa epidemiology at pagdating sa public health advice," Gatchalian added.

The senator welcomed the investigation, saying that it is about time that the various issues hounding the DOH would be addressed.

"I think the Ombudsman will focus on the corruption issue, primarily. The performance issue or the response issue, Presidente na ang magde-dictate niyan kung satisfied siya sa trabaho ng DOH o hindi. I think 'yung performance issue is an administrative matter that the President has absolute authority on," he pointed out.

Gatchalian further said that he signed the senators' resolution last April seeking the resignation of Duque because he saw the Cabinet official's "lack of foresight" amid the COVID-19 situation.

Ombudsman Samuel Martires bared on Wednesday that he has ordered a motu proprio investigation on Duque and other health officials for irregularities and anomalies they allegedly committed amid the health crisis.


Among the matters being looked into are the DOH's purchase of 100,000 test kits; alleged delayed procurement of personal protective equipment for health workers; inaction in the release processing of benefits and financial assistance of “fallen” and infected medical frontliners; and confusing and delayed reporting of COVID-19 related deaths and confirmed cases.

Senator Risa Hontiveros also welcomed the Ombudsman's investigation.

"Sana ay magbunga ang imbestigasyon na ito para managot ang dapat managot. Kailangan din ito para maalis ang agam-agam ng mga tao tungkol sa ibang kawani ng Department of Health na walang kinalaman sa mga nasabing transaksyon at patuloy lang sa matapat na paglilingkod," Hontiveros said in a statement.

"The Health Secretary has a lot to answer for and this is an opportunity for him to clear his name," she added.

Hontiveros further reminded the executive officials that while they serve at the pleasure of the President, "they are accountable to the Filipino people."

For its part, the DOH welcomed the investigation and vowed to comply with all the directives from the Office of the Ombudsman. —LBG, GMA News