Interior Secretary Eduardo Año on Tuesday advised government officials to remain "cool" during meetings after Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque was seen in a leaked video berating a group of doctors during a virtual meeting last week.
In a television interview with CNN Philippines, Año also apologized to the health sector for the "unfortunate event that never should have happened."
"Let's be open to all ideas and in a professional manner," he added.
The leaked video shows a visibly angry Roque scolding a group of health professionals during a meeting of the government's pandemic task force.
Roque eventually apologized over his outburst, saying he got “emotional.”
Dr. Maricar Limpin of the Philippine College of Physicians, who was at the meeting, found the apology insincere.
At a press briefing on Tuesday, Roque said he was not undermining health workers, adding that the leaked video did not show the whole story.
At the same time, Roque refused to comment on Año's remark, saying: "People are entitled to their opinions, that is how democracy works."
"Anyone can say anything and everything. Of course, we will respect whatever people say, in the same way, we also want respect for our opinions," Roque added.
The incident has prompted a group of health workers to ask for Roque's resignation, if not calls for President Rodrigo Duterte to fire him.
Roque, in response, said only the President can fire him. Officials of the University of the Philippines in Diliman, the spokesman’s alma mater, said Tuesday they oppose Roque's nomination to be a part of the International Law Commission.
Established in 1947, the ILC is an advisory body to the United Nations tasked to develop international law.
In a statement, the UP Diliman Executive Committee said Roque "has a very poor track record of promoting, defending, and fulfilling human rights and the rule of law, especially during the administration of President Rodrigo R. Duterte."
"Therefore, his inclusion in the Commission would not serve its purposes but instead diminish the reputation of the body," the committee said of Roque, who studied and taught law in UP for many years.
The UP Diliman Executive Committee is composed of the chancellor, vice chancellors, deans and directors of the colleges and schools, university registrar, and 3 members-at-large elected by the university council.
Aside from UP, the Free Legal Assistance Group, an organization of human rights lawyers, also objected to Roque's nomination. FLAG said Roque's "disregard of the effects of domestic violations of human rights," among others, make him "ill-suited" for the job.
On Monday, Roque confirmed that he was in New York for his nomination in the ILC.
Roque last year dismissed claims made by the United Nations rights office over alleged violations and abuses in the Philippines.
Roque had said there was no truth to the accusations made by the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights that the government was clamping down legitimate dissent and was responsible for the supposed widespread killings of drug suspects.
Meanwhile, the country's healthcare workers are exasperated towards the Duterte administration for completely abandoning the health and safety of the people and the blatant disregard for the health workers’ safety, protection, and well-being, said the Alliance of Health Workers.
AHW slammed the proposed DOH budget for next year, which only comprises 4.81 percent or P242 billion of the total proposed P5.024-trillion National Expenditure Program for 2022.
The DOH outlay is deceptive because 33 percent or P79.9 billion of the total proposed budget goes to the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. or PhilHealth, which is mired in its own debts to hospitals amid the pandemic, the group noted.
The actual DOH budget under the DOH-OSEC (Office of the Secretary) is only P157 billion, which includes 76 public hospitals that directly provide health services to the people.
“Obviously, this budget did not reflect the Duterte government’s serious effort in mitigating the COVID-19 pandemic,” the AHW stressed.
“The budget shows a gross neglect to people’s health and safety in this time of worsening health crisis.”
"It is annoying and demoralizing on health workers' part because the Duterte government has not even allocated a budget for COVID-19 benefits such as Special Risk Allowance, Actual Hazard Duty Pay and Meals, Accommodation, Transportation for the year 2022," the group added.
They noted the promised COVID-19 benefits in 2020 up to 2021 have not yet fully been released to health workers despite the set deadline given to the DOH and Duterte government last August 31, 2021.
"Where is the heart and compassion of this government that in the midst of the pandemic, in which many health workers and people are dying and falling ill, and yet the health and safety of health workers and people is not a priority?" AHW said.
In related developments, to ensure protection of its employees, the Department of Health CALABARZON (Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, Rizal, Quezon) has been conducting mass antigen and RT-PCT testing to all its employees.
“We need to guarantee the safety and well-being of our own employees as they are always at the frontline doing the legwork and constantly exposed to the Covid virus while conducting fieldwork,” Regional Director Eduardo Janairo said.
He cited the need for them to know the health of their workers to protect them, their families, and the general public.
The swab testing, Janairo said, was being conducted to monitor the health status of every staff member and promptly manage those showing or manifesting symptoms of the virus.
“All precautions must be considered this time and all health regulations must be implemented,” he said.
Janairo said all employees tested COVID positive were brought to an isolation facility where they are taken care of and treated.
"Timely and appropriate interventions are needed to avoid the spread of the virus, "stressed Janairo.
The COVID mass testing for employees started last September 1, 2021.
As of September 13, 2021, the Regional Epidemiology and Surveillance Unit recorded 1,599 new cases of COVID-19.
There are now 295,663 cases for CALABARZON with 44,818 active cases and 242,323 recoveries. A total of 8,522 died from the virus.