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Palace: Up to Duque to go on leave

Palace: Up to Duque to go on leave

MANILA, Philippines — Malacañang is leaving it up to Health Secretary Francisco Duque III to respond to calls for him to go on leave while the ombudsman is probing the alleged irregularities in his agency’s handling of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic.

The Department of Health (DOH) is under fire over supposed anomalies in the purchase of medical supplies and the alleged delay in the release of compensation for medical frontliners.

Ombudsman Samuel Martires has ordered an investigation on the DOH’s pandemic response and has required Duque and Budget Secretary Wendel Avisado to submit documents detailing the use of funds for COVID-19-related expenses.

Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian has asked Duque to take a leave of absence to ensure an impartial probe while Senate President Vicente Sotto III said the health chief “should save the President from any predicament or responsibility in his tenure.”

Sen. Francis Pangilinan, meanwhile, called for Duque’s resignation, saying the administration’s response to the pandemic has been slow and inefficient.

Asked to react to calls for Duque to go on leave or to quit, presidential spokesman Harry Roque yesterday said the health chief should be the one to answer them. “You know those calls are addressed to Secretary Duque. He has to answer them. I don’t think I have any authority to speak on behalf of Secretary Duque.

“All I can say is Cabinet members, of course, serve at the pleasure of the President and until the President says I have lost trust and confidence in you, they can stay. But all calls, for either resignation or going on leave, are addressed to Secretary Duque. He should address them,” he added.

Despite the issues hounding the DOH, Duque continues to enjoy the trust of Duterte. Last Monday, Duterte said Duque does not need to steal government funds because he is already wealthy.

The President also claimed that his officials are “clean” and that he believes in their honesty and integrity.

Duque has expressed readiness to cooperate with the ombudsman’s probe and has denied that there were anomalies in his agency’s handling of the pandemic.

The DOH, Duque said, has completed the distribution of compensation to families of health workers who died due to COVID-19 and to medical frontliners who got severely ill while on duty.

The health chief also claimed that a global supply shortage hampered the procurement of personal protective equipment for frontliners.

DBM set to submit documents

The Department of Budget and Management (DBM) said yesterday it is set to submit the documents requested by the Office of the Ombudsman in relation to the government’s disbursements for COVID-19 response efforts.

During the online Laging Handa briefing yesterday, Secretary Avisado gave assurance that the DBM will cooperate with the ombudsman’s probe on the alleged irregularities in the government’s programs related to the pandemic.

“We at the DBM are prepared and tomorrow, from what I know, we will submit the documents being requested by the Office of the Ombudsman,” Avisado said in Filipino.

At the same briefing, Avisado said the DBM is currently preparing its P4.335-trillion budget for fiscal year 2021.

“We expect to be able to pass this on to the President, if not in time for the SONA (State of the Nation Address), maybe in the second week of August. And then after that, we will submit to Congress,” he said.

According to the DBM chief, the 2021 budget will prioritize programs to battle the COVID-19 pandemic.

These include “labor-intensive” programs to help Filipinos who were displaced due to the pandemic and the movement restrictions imposed. Mary Grace Padin