Mr Duque, please resign

"The Filipino people do not deserve this kind of leadership."



We need a better leader at the helm of the Department of Health.

On April 16, 14 senators co-authored Senate Resolution No. 362 calling for Secretary Francisco Duque’s resignation for his “failure of leadership, negligence, lack of foresight, and inefficiency in performance.” Signatories to the resolution were Senate President Tito Sotto; Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri; and Senators Sonny Angara, Nancy Binay, Grace Poe, Joel Villanueva, Francis Tolentino, Imee Marcos, Manny Pacquiao, Sherwin Gatchalian, Ronald dela Rosa, Ramon Revilla Jr., Lito Lapid, and Panfilo Lacson.

Sen. Angara put it very well when he said that, “We were late for testing, contact tracing is almost non-existent, hospitals are short of protective gear – we need to be better. Buhay ng mga Pilipino ang nakasalalay dito.” Angara himself went through the ordeal of contracting COVID-19, going through treatment, and recovering from the disease. He knows.

As Filipinos try to cope with the radical changes brought about by this virus, the isolation, loneliness, loss of income, even jobs, hunger, and for thousands, grief for loved ones who perished because of this disease or other diseases that could not be given the proper treatment because of COVID-19, the Filipino people need to be able to trust those making decisions on our health and lives.

I do not remember a time in my whole life when I have sent as many messages of condolences and sympathies to family members who are out of the country, friends, and acquaintances who lost loved ones. Too many people I know are grieving. Nor have I sent as many virtual hugs online to friends having bouts of depression because of how our lives are.

Just last Thursday I learned of the passing of another friend from my high school days. He was brought to the hospital because he was having difficulty breathing. Two hours later, he was no more. He was cremated just a few hours after expiring. There was no wake. We would have wanted to pay tribute to him but we knew we could not. I can only imagine how his family felt.

These are cruel times.

While the pandemic rages, we also problematize the future that appears to be bleak. As we make plans, no matter how tentative, to try to regain control of our lives, we should be able to hope that those making decisions on our behalf are capable in shepherding the country and its 108 million citizens toward recovery.

We need government to inspire trust and hope among our people. However, this is hardly the case.

To be fair to Health Secretary Duque, it is not only him that makes it difficult to trust government. It is not only him that makes people feel helpless and hopeless. Many others do – starting with the President. However, even President Duterte has repeatedly said that he trusts Duque. Even at that time when there was a strong clamor from people, including senators, for Duque’s resignation, Duterte said that Duque would stay put and that he would continue to lead the country’s war against COVID-19.

Again, to be fair to Duque, our health system has been fraught with problems even before this pandemic. Our health system is disjointed because of the Local Government Code. It is devolved to Local Government Units (LGUs). This is why the system does not flow seamlessly. Coordination and cooperation between the DOH and LGUs are weak. In working with both DOH and LGUs for years, we found that many good Department Orders and/o Memoranda do not reach LGUs as they should. On the other hand, there are LGUs that do not follow DOH policies because of devolution. This cannot be acceptable especially when there is a health crisis such as COVID-19.

DOH is infamous for bureaucratic red tape. This may explain the slowness by which programs are implemented like the way the department is acting in relation with this pandemic. It took the DOH a long time before personal protective equipment (PPE) was purchased and our hospitals, doctors, and other front liners resorted to begging for crucial PPE from the private sector. This caused us the lives of doctors and nurses.

Still, if the leadership of the DOH is effective, efficient, and capable, things will not be as bad. Duterte’s trust on Duque should have been taken by the latter as a form of pressure to perform better. Apparently, the Secretary has chosen to continue playing politics instead.

This week, in the midst of preparations to ease quarantine to open the economy, Secretary Duque was again trending on social media. People were again angry at his pronouncements. Again, he was severely criticized by senators during an online hearing.

While a lot of people expressed concern that since we have yet to test a substantial number of citizens for COVID-19, reopening commercial establishments and workplaces may put a lot of people in harm’s way. Since it is virtually impossible to know who carries the virus without testing, it can spread rapidly. In response, Duque remarked that there is no evidence that asymptomatic people can transmit the virus. Coming from the Health Secretary, saying this is, at the very least, irresponsible. Did Duque think that this was the correct response to people’s serious apprehensions while at the same time being attuned to the plans to reopen the economy?

When asked about the preparations against a second wave of COVID-19, Duque said that actually the country is already in the second wave. He considers the first three cases of Chinese citizens who travelled here last January as the first wave. This was met with an uproar from alarmed Filipinos. Other medical experts, and even Duque’s allies in government contradicted him on this. Former Health Secretary Esperanza Cabral said that three cases was too small to form an epidemic curve and that Duque was confusing the public.

The Filipino people do not deserve this kind of leadership at the Health Department. We need a capable, efficient, and effective Health Secretary. We need a strategic thinker with foresight. The present Secretary does not inspire trust, hope, and confidence.

Sec. Duque, please RESIGN now.

@bethangsioco on Twitter Elizabeth Angsioco on Facebook

Topics: Elizabeth Angsioco , Department of Health , DOH , Secretary Francisco Duque , coronavirus disease 2019 , COVID-19
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