Duque


DOH Secretary Francisco Duque III might not be the best person to head the agency, but I don’t think there’s a need for him to resign as what some senators are demanding. One of them, Senator Grace Poe, said that Duque “failed the minimum standard of leadership.” Poe and 14 other Senators signed a resolution calling for Duque’s resignation because he allegedly failed to get mass Covid 19 testing into place. He is also being accused of gagging medical personnel and dragged his feet on getting FDA approval for Covid 19 testing laboratories.

The Senators are playing politics. They are placing into the feelings of discontent expressed by some people, and twisted the facts out of proportion. The allegations against Duque are thinly disguised attempts to distract the government’s efforts to combat the corona virus. For a month now, Senators have been pushed back the national stage. Their only role was to enact legislation to support the government’s Covid 19 response program.

Must Duque be blamed for the lack of mass testing capability? In case these Senators haven’t noticed, the Philippines isn’t the only nation that struggled with mass testing capabilities. Even the great United States of America was stymied in that area. The Covid 19 is a new virus, and the production of mass testing kits was limited. The pandemic hit the whole world at the same time. In the mad rush for testing kits, the Philippines had to compete with other nations to get hold of these testing kits.

Maybe the Senators ought to be reminded that government procurement was hampered by stringent procedures before the emergency was declared. In fact, my friend Minority Leader Franklin Drilon was quick to tell the DOH it could not do away with RA 9184 in trying to procure testing kits and personal protective equipment (PPE). By the time the emergency powers were granted, the rest of the world was already ablaze with the disease.

This is the reason that we had to depend on donations from China, South Korea and other nations for our Covid 19 response capability at the start of this crisis.

On the matter of FDA approval for testing laboratories, the Senators must understand that it isn’t a matter of filling up application forms and pushing the paperwork around. There are strict protocols to be followed. And the FDA was overwhelmed by avalance of bureaucratic challenges that included evaluation of locally produced testing kits and potential drugs. It was like a squad of the Army being attacked by the entire New People’s Army at the crack of dawn.

No matter how great the pressure was on them, the FDA could not afford to take short-cuts, unlike what the government did when then DOH Secretary Janette Garin pushed for the early approval of Dengvaxia vaccine and pave the way for its anomalous procurement in 2015.

I admit Duque lacks certain qualities that inspire public confidence. But I don’t think it amounts to critical leadership lapses that endangered people’s lives. We must not lose sight of the fact that we have effectively contained the virus after a month, notwithstanding the failure of local government units in Metro Manila to strictly enforce the home quarantine. The numbers do not lie. The Philippines still ranks low in terms of Covid 19 infections.

Finally, these Senators need to be reminded that Duque needs only to have the full trust and confidence of one person: President Rodrigo Roa Duterte. If he has accountability, it’s to the President of the Republic, unless, of course, he has broken laws. So far, the issue is more of his perceived lack of leadership by standards imposed by Senators who don’t have a clue about what the situation demands. It’s a matter that’s outside their league.

It would be better for them to let the crisis end before Senator Poe gets back to her practice of unproductive investigations in aid of legislation.

About Manuel "Boy" Mejorada
Manuel "Boy" Mejorada is a journalist and social media activist. A former Iloilo provincial administrator, he is now waging a crusade against corruption and narco-politics.

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