MANILA – President Rodrigo R. Duterte on Tuesday extolled Health Secretary Francisco Duque III for his competence in handling the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) outbreak in the country.
Duque would not have been appointed as health chief had he shown any sign of incompetence, Duterte said in a public address aired over state-run PTV-4.
“Nakita ko si Secretary Duque in the many meeting that we had. Nakita ko siya nagta-trabaho. Ngayon, nagta-trabaho ‘yung tao. Hindi ko nakita na incompetent siya (I’ve seen Secretary Duque in the many meetings that we’ve had. I’ve seen him work. Now, the man is working. I don’t see him as incompetent),” he said.
Duterte made the remarks amid the Ombudsman’s probe into alleged irregularities in the Department of Health’s (DOH) response to the Covid-19 crisis.
He also made the statement despite mounting calls for Duque’s resignation due to the embattled health chief’s supposed incompetence to address the pandemic.
Duterte said his admiration for Duque had developed when the latter served as health secretary during the administration of former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
From 2005 to 2010, Duque took the helm of the DOH.
“Trust is not, you know, press release. Si Secretary Duque po, nakita ko na siya kasi nag-trabaho rin ako kay President Gloria Arroyo noon (I’ve seen Secretary Duque work because I also worked for former president Gloria Arroyo before),” he said. “Hindi ko siya kuning secretary (I wouldn’t have tapped him as [health] secretary) again for the second time, (had he shown incompetence).”
The Office of the Ombudsman earlier ordered the probe against Duque and other health officials and employees due to the alleged delayed procurement of personal protective equipment and other medical gear needed by health care workers, and other supposed lapses and irregularities at the DOH that led to the death or infection of medical front-liners.
Some government officials have also repeatedly called on Duque to step down from his post as cases of Covid-19 continue to surge.
Nobody was prepared
Defending Duque anew, Duterte maintained that nobody was ready to defeat Covid-19.
“Itong Covid-19 na ito, kaya nga pandemic eh (This Covid-19 is a pandemic). Nobody but nobody dito sa mundong ito (here in this world) was really or were prepared for it. Iyang (The) pandemic, it comes about once in a century,” he said.
Duterte said the sudden surge in global cases of Covid-19 came as a surprise.
He said he did not expect the new coronavirus to be a “virulent, fast-moving microbe,” as warned by the World Health Organization.
The President, nevertheless, said his government, through the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) chaired by Duque, immediately took appropriate measures to combat Covid-19 as soon as it hit the country.
“I immediately convened the IATF. Right here and then, we organized ourselves into a body, (a) working body, to deal with the problem,” Duterte said. (PNA)