Health Secretary Francisco Duque III appears to have escaped the axe anew.

President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday took responsibility for the rushed and high-priced initial purchases of health equipment against Covid-19 that have prompted calls for Duque to resign.

“Sabi ko [kay Secretary Duque], ‘Do everything you can, If it is not cheap, not expensive, I do not care. Just go ahead and do something about it dahil ipit na tayo dito,'” Duterte said in a meeting with the Inter-Agency Task Force on the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases, broadcast over state television late Monday.

“Gusto ko lang malaman ng sambayanang Pilipino, I take full responsibility, na ang utos ko, ‘Dalian mo, wala akong pakialam kung saan ka magkuha, magnakaw ka,'” he added.

Omnibus accused of profiteering

Duterte however asked Duque to explain allegations that he had favored a local distributor of Sansure Biotech testing kits, Omnibus, owned by a couple with the last name Co.

Duque said he did not know the Co couple.

Budget Undersecretary Lloyd Christoper Lao told Duterte the government would no longer purchase from Omnibus after it charged about twice the actual price.

The government will instead go directly to Sansure after finding a Hong Kong supplier that offered a lower price during a public bidding, Lao said.

Palace spokesman Harry Roque told Duterte there might be a basis for the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) to investigate the Co couple for profiteering.

Duterte responded by saying that the NBI could start a probe, but added, “I still believe … in the presumption of regularity in the performance of duties.”

Duterte also told Lao to purchase higher-priced personal protective equipment if it was safer for health workers to use.

‘Don’t be touchy’

Duterte told Duque to just ignore critics after the health chief sparked confusion during a Senate hearing last week, where he said the Philippines was already in the second wave of coronavirus infections.

“Ano ba talaga ito, are we in the second, third or fourth wave, or no wave at all?” Duterte asked.

Duque revised his statement and said: “We are actually in the first major wave.”

The health chief explained that he had relied on the analysis of a top epidemiologist, Dr. John Wong, who said the first three imported Covid-19 cases from China in January constituted a first, but minor, wave.

Duterte told Duque he understood his situation and said: “Huwag ka masyadong touchy sa issues because always there will be pros and cons. Pakinggan na lang natin because it’s a democracy.”

“What I’m interested is if there is graft and corruption there. Did dirty money change hands?” (