Secretary Duque Keeps Dropping The Ball As Health Sector Chief

A country’s fight against the COVID-19 pandemic relies largely on its health sector. Consequently, its success or failure will reflect highly on the person who leads it.

DOH Secretary Francisco Duque lll at a press conference on the update of the coronavirus at the Philippine Blood Center in Quezon City |Photo byDarren Langit

On the brink of hitting 2 Million cases, thousands of healthcare workers replete with exhaustion, billions of mismanaged funds, and nearly 2 years of wavering quarantine restrictions–the numbers can’t lie, the Philippines is not doing well.

Hence, so its health sector leader, Francisco Duque III.

Since the on-set of the country’s fight against the pandemic, there have been numerous calls for Secretary Duque to drop his post already. This came after the probe on the alleged corruption in the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth) where he sits as chairman.

Other apparent displays of mismanaged pandemic response caused many to place their doubts on Secretary Duque, and to root for his expulsion. These include, but are not limited to: the delayed recommendation to shut Philippine borders, dropping the ball on vaccine procurement, and the health sector’s lack of an efficient tracking system for COVID-19 infections.

But of all his drawbacks as health sector chief, the blaring news on the P67.32 Billion worth of mishandled DOH funds takes the cake. Lawmakers were quick to call for probes over the Commission of Audit (COA)’s alarming findings.

Senator Grace Poe, for one, quickly sought an inquiry on the utilization of the Department of Health’s (DOH) P67.32 billion COVID-19 fund.

Poe stressed in her resolution: “Instead of being utilized to support and boost the country’s pandemic response, the funds either remained idle or were not properly and immediately used for their purpose”

She also detailed how the deficiencies in the implementation of the fund ultimately led to Filipinos not getting the healthcare they deserve, at the most crucial time.

Philippine Senator Grace Poe | IMG SOURCE: AFP PHOTO / JAY DIRECTO

“These funds were provided to strengthen the agency’s health resources in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, but the implementation deficiencies denied our countrymen their right to health at a time when it is most needed.”

Shortly after COA’s flagging, the health secretary responded emotionally to the report. In his outburst, he expressed that COA’s ruse wrecked his agency’s morale. Even costing them sleep.

But Secretary Duque and the DOH’s misery will never compare to the bludgeoned spirits and worn out bodies of the country’s medical frontliners.

COA’s findings shed better light on the plight of the health sector, especially its health workers’. Billions of unobligated funds meant thousands of frontliners were devoid of proper benefits such as a special risk allowance, an appropriate hazard pay, and even provisions for transportation.

Tired and weary, healthcare workers already hinted at their plan of resigning collectively. Hence, Senator Grace Poe’s request for the government to heed the frontliners’ cry for help.

“With reports of billions of unspent funds for COVID-19 response, our health frontliners expect that the government can work around available resources to give their due as they continue to put their lives at risk to take care of the sick.”

She also emphasized how invaluable health workers are–that even with the availability of vaccines, they remain to be “the most precious resource of our healthcare system”.

Nearly a year after the PhilHealth corruption probes, the clamour for Secretary Duque’s suspension, even dismissal, are back.

“Shouldn’t Sec. Duque be suspended by now if you’re going to apply the same  judgment as what happened to the PhilHealth executives?” Senator Poe pointed out.

This is with regard to Ombudsman Martires’ preventive suspension of 8 PhilHealth executives and 5 DOH officials for offenses related to the use of people’s money during the pandemic.

PhilHealth customer assistance notice at the Rizal Medical Center in Pasig City. | IMG SOURCE: INQUIRER PHOTO/LYN RILLON

But more than simply a deferral, accountability from the Health Secretary is what everyone’s truly looking for.

In her opening statement during the Senate blue ribbon committee hearing, Senator Poe firmly expressed: “Somebody must be held accountable. Habang walang nasasampolan, paulit-ulit ito at walang matututo”. A prompt call for Secretary Duque to assume accountability for his department. And maybe even, the plight of the health workers.

The country’s fight against the COVID-19 pandemic only gets harder by the day, and the Philippines’ chances of winning are only as good as the competence of the person leading its health sector.

And with Secretary Duque staying protected in his seat as health sector chief, it might be safe to say that the odds are stacked against the Filipinos.

Words By: Mica Esquivel
Editing by: Christina Salazar

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