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Sotto says Duque can’t dodge P14.8-billion PhilHealth mess, as DOH chief thanks Duterte

File photo: Philippine Health Secretary Francisco Duque III (AP Photo/Aaron Favila)

HEALTH Secretary Francisco Duque cannot wash his hands to dodge liability in the anomalous multi-billion fund disbursement of PhilHealth funds, Senate President Vicente Sotto III said Wednesday, citing findings by Senate probers affirming fund irregularities in the agency. 

The beleaguered health chief, however, said President Duterte’s continued trust and support inspires him to work even harder

“I am overwhelmed. Our President’s continued trust and support inspires us to work even harder,” Duque said in a Tweet. He was referring to Duterte’s remarks to him, on national television on Monday night, telling him to stay put as the President still trusted him.

Duque also thanked his DOH family for their profound dedication, “working tirelessly in spite of the risks from the pandemic.”

Senate vote

Sotto confirmed the unanimous plenary vote cast when the committee inquiry report’s findings and recommendations, signed by 22 senators, were submitted for adoption in plenary session.

“The majority signed it. Even before it was taken up on the floor, 22 had signed it. But the official process is for it to be tackled on the floor and voted upon. That process was done and the vote was unanimous,” Sotto reported.

Asked about Duterte’s comments in defense of Duque, Sotto voiced doubts the Chief Executive had already read the report. “I gave Executive Secretary (Salvador) Medialdea a draft copy, but I think the President has read it already. Second, he has heard only those who talk to him about it. And Secretary Duque himself.”

Sotto said he was not ruling out the possibility that Duque will eventually be made to step down. “His negligence was obvious. Even a high school student or someone who didn’t study law would know that if one is included in malversation of public funds, that includes negligence. You are chairman of the board, you are the only Cabinet member there, and you’re not allowed to have a representative there. The other board members of PhilHealth may have representatives, is that meant to pin you down? You’re the chairman, aren’t you?” Sotto III stressed.  

At the President’s pleasure

In an online media forum on Wednesday, DOH Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said that Duque serves at the pleasure of the President.

“As long as the President . . . asks him to continue to work, he will continue to work,” Vergeire said.

She stressed that the DOH is behind Duque for he has given them “direction” when it comes to the agency’s response in the pandemic.

Instead of calling for the resignation of Duque, Vergeire called for unified support for all leaders behind the Covid-19 response to be able to “move forward and do better”.

On Monday night, Duterte said that he still fully trusts Duque and even told him, “this is not the time for you to resign.”

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