President Rodrigo Roa Duterte is given a tour around Southern Philippines Medical Center Children’s Cancer Institute (SPMC-CCI) in Davao City by SPMC Chief Leopoldo Vega on December 28, 2019. KARL NORMAN ALONZO/PRESIDENTIAL PHOTO

DAVAO CITY – The former medical director of the biggest government run hospital south of the country in this city denied on Monday that he was being groomed as the next secretary of the Department of Health (DOH) after President Rodrigo Duterte named him undersecretary of health.

Dr. Leopoldo Vega, former medical director of the Southern Philippines Medical Center said during a virtual presser that Duterte’s office called him and offered the new undersecretary position to help them the DOH “in terms of making sure services and commitments were committed.”

Duterte, a Davaeño, has the habit of appointing people from his city to various government posts.

Vega stressed that he has no ambition to become Health Secretary, adding that he was only asked to assist in the distrbution of financial assistance to health workers who had contracted or died from COVID-19.

In the same briefing, Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque Jr. said Vega’s appointment was related to the slow disbursement of financial assistance to health workers who got infected or died because of COVID-19.

“Hindi ko po alam kung kapalit na siya ni Secretary pero ang konteksto ng pag-appoint was the president was very unhappy with the delay,” he said.

“Ang sabi niya (Duterte), kinakailangan magkaroon ng isang maaasahan na tao diyan sa Department of Health,” Roque added.

Vega’s appointment came after rumors surfaced that Duterte was scouting for a new health chief after a series of blunders from the DOH, most notable were Duque’s statements during a Senate hearing that that the Philippines was already under the “second wave” of coronavirus infections and over the supposedly overpriced protective equipment and testing kits.

Back in May, Duque arch-critic Sen. Panfilo Lacson chimed in saying the country has “among the 170,000 licensed physicians in the country who may be more honest and competent” than Duque.  (Rommel F. Lopez)