Amid the rampage of the coronavirus pandemic in the Philippines, the Duterte administration’s chief economist resigned while its highest health authority apologized for his shortcomings which forced the Senate earlier to call for his resignation.
National Economic and Development Authority director-general Ernesto Pernia, a member of the government’s economic team, announced his resignation Friday citing personal reasons and “differences in development philosophy” with a few of his fellow Cabinet members.
Among the members of the economic cluster of the Cabinet, Pernia was vocal on his position for a gradual lifting of the Enhanced Community Quarantine on April 30 and allowing malls and public transportation to resume partial operations.
This prompted the militant group Bagong Alyansang Makabayan to raise the question as to whether Pernia’s resignation meant the lockdown will be extended.
“Does Pernia’s resignation indicate that there will be a lockdown extension? NEDA has stood for a selective community quarantine to be able to revive the economy, instead of an indefinite and extensive lockdown,” Bayan secretary-general Renato Reyes said.
Elsewhere, just a day after 14 senators asked him to resign over failure of leadership, among others, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III, in an interview over dzMM beamed nationwide, apologized for his shortcomings in addressing the COVID-19 pandemic which claimed the lives of almost 400 Filipinos and sickened almost 6,000 others.
Since the problem of COVID-19 is fairly new, Duque said they did not have any past experience in handling such a virus.
In Malacañang, Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles said Duque still enjoyed the trust of President Rodrigo Duterte, despite mounting calls by several senators for him to resign.
Nograles, also Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases spokesperson, admitted that “missteps” in the fight against COVID-19 were normal.
Nograles said members of the Cabinet expressed their support for Duque since the latter had always been straightforward when it came to assessing the COVID-19 situation.
Duque noted it was not only the Philippines, but other countries, were grappling with the virus, which had Wuhan City in Hubei province in China as the epicenter.
Regarding Duque’s admission, Senator Panfilo Lacson hoped this would be followed quickly by more proactive and positive action to address the issues and concerns raised by his own people at the DOH, as well as government and private physicians and health workers against his leadership.
“After all, it is them who have brought most of these concerns to the attention of the senators who signed the call for his resignation,” said Lacson, one of the signatories in Senate Resolution 362 which asked Duque to quit his post.
Pernia’s resignation happened at a time when the country is battling the impact of the coronavirus disease which is seen to make the economy contract to its lowest level in decades.
Duterte, who accepted Pernia’s resignation, has tapped Finance Undersecretary Karl Kendrick Chua as acting secretary of the National Economic and Development Authority, Malacañang announced shortly after the resignation.
“After reflection during Holy Week, and consultations with my family and close colleagues, I have decided to resign from my post as Secretary of Socioeconomic Planning. This is due partly to personal reasons and partly to differences in development philosophy with a few of my fellow Cabinet members,” Pernia, who thanked the President for appointing him, said in a statement.
“I leave NEDA knowing that we have initiated and implemented meaningful changes that will help the country overcome these challenging times and on to a higher growth trajectory,” Pernia said.
Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III, the head of the Duterte administration’s economic team, said he was not consulted by Pernia regarding the latter’s resignation. “No, he didn’t,” Dominguez said.
Pernia is an economist, writer and professor emeritus at the University of the Philippines School of Economics. Throughout his long career as an economist, Pernia also consulted for the World Bank, the Population Council East and South Asia Regional Office, the United Nations University, the United Nations Center for Regional Development, the Food and Agriculture Organization, the Philippine Institute for Development Studies, and USAid.
Pernia’s replacement, Chua, served as the chief economist and undersecretary for the proposed Strategy, Economics, and Results Group of the Department of Finance.
Chua, as DOF official, helps the government achieve its ten”point socioeconomic agenda by providing strategic advice to the Finance Secretary and the Cabinet Economic Development Cluster, leading to the preparation of economic policy research in aid of priority reforms, and shepherding priority reforms from incubation to implementation.
Duque, in the interview, also admitted he was “really hurt” by the call of several senators for him to resign.
However, Lacson said they reached such collective decision since the coronavirus would impact both the health and economy sectors.
“Our economy is closed for how many days already? More than a month. And we extended. Our manufacturing sector, our industrial sector, infrastructure sector are not moving. So how long can our government subsidize or give doleout to those who lost their jobs?” Senate President Vicente Sotto III asked.
Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea said the President has made a decision for Duque to stay put, but expects him to work “even harder” following the call.
Nograles said: “Missteps cannot be avoided because the enemy is a novel strain of coronavirus. In this battle, missteps are normal, because number one, it’s novel, it’s a new virus.
“The world does not even know how the virus operates, how it reacts, how it moves.”