By RJ Espartinez

Senator Sherwin Gatchalian proposed that Department of Health (DOH) Secretary Francisco Duque III should at least take a leave of absence as the Ombudsman starts its probe on the irregularities of the Health Department’s COVID-19 response. 

“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,” Gatchalian said.

Since much of the job is being implemented by the National Task Force Against COVID-19, his absence while the investigation is ongoing won’t affect much on the efforts of the government against the coronavirus disease 2019 (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.

Gatchalian said that now is the time to tackle the pending issues of DOH about its questionable efforts against COVID-19. 

“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 stated.

The senator reminded everyone that he signed a resolution last April requesting for Duque to step down as health chief since he already saw the Cabinet official’s “lack of foresight” in handling the COVID-19 situation.

Meanwhile, Ombudsman Samuel Martires shared on Wednesday that he has already ordered a motu proprio investigation on Duque and his other officials for anomalies and irregularities in responding to the crisis.

Some of the issues to be tackled were the questionable purchase of 100,000 test kits; alleged delayed procurement of personal protective equipment for health workers; delay 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.

Meanwhile, Senator Risa Hontiveros supports the Ombudsman’s probe.

“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 stated.

“The Health Secretary has a lot to answer for and this is an opportunity for him to clear his name,” she further stated.

She emphasized that while the administration allies are serving at the pleasure of the President, “they are accountable to the Filipino people.”

Meanwhile, the DOH accepted the investigation and committed for full compliance with all the orders from the Office of the Ombudsman.