Fourteen senators—including the Senate President and other administration allies—last week passed a resolution demanding the resignation of Health Secretary Francisco Duque for his poor handling of the COVID-19 crisis.
The senators said Duque’s "poor planning, delayed response, lack of transparency, and misguided and flip-flopping policies and measures" in addressing the pandemic posed a danger to the lives of Filipinos in general and healthcare workers in particular.
The resolution came soon after the Department of Health was reported to have hemmed and hawed over the application of Marikina City to have its own testing center. The mayor of Marikina said he knew he could land in trouble for his act, but he was willing to risk violating the law because every day counted—after all, COVID presents a life-and-death situation.
But Duque stays. “I will continue to serve the country to the best of my abilities,” he said. “I will continue to be in the trenches with our health care workers and frontliners.” Next he was seen praising Marikina’s initiative. The Palace says Duque still enjoys the President’s trust.
In contrast, National Economic and Development Authority head Secretary Ernesto Pernia announced his resignation Friday, citing personal reasons and development policy differences with his Cabinet colleagues. In a swift move, an undersecretary for the Department of Finance was appointed as acting NEDA chief. The Palace made no expression of trust.
Amid speculation on the real reason for his leaving, Pernia resorted to comparing the present administration to a dysfunctional orchestra.
These two cases highlight that different people are driven by different motives for throwing in the towel. Resignation is a complicated word, and depending on who is pondering it and on the circumstances surrounding that person, it could be interpreted as a manifestation of surrender, or a valiant and principled stand, an indication of cowardice or guilt, or the humble acknowledgment that the task is too difficult for one’s intellect or fortitude. It could be seen as a last resort after one has tried too hard to make compromises acceptable to conscience—and failed.
In other countries, government officials resign when they are implicated in any scandal, failure or error, even if only on the principle of command responsibility. But Filipinos are more familiar with the kind that clings on to their seats even with a preponderance of evidence of incompetence at best, or wrongdoing at worst.
Remember, too, the matter of succession. Booting someone from office or prevailing upon them to quit is just half the story. How can the people make sure that the next official would be better, without vested interest or potential profit?
These hold true during ordinary times. They are crucial these days, when decisions made and not made means lives saved.
Different officials may have different interpretations of a good time to go. But since they are public servants, their primary consideration must be the good of the people they swore to serve, and not their ego.