MANILA - Health Secretary Enrique Ona was apparently forced to take a month-long leave of absence following President Aquino’s irritation over his allocation request, sources revealed over the weekend.
Contrary to official pronouncements by Malacañang spokespersons, Ona was forced to take the leave.
“Apparently, it was the last straw,” one insider said, referring to Ona’s P600-million request for the rehabilitation and renovation of the Research Institute of Tropical Medicine to contain the possible spread of the Ebola virus in the country.
The amount of P500 million was reported all over media, but the actual amount of P600 million was specified in an official communication to the Office of the President.
An insider hinted that Health Undersecretary Janette Garin may replace Ona because her official designation as stated by Malacañang was “acting secretary,” not officer-in-charge of the health department as presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda had said.
Garin – an obstetrician-gynecologist by profession – was a former colleague of Aquino at the House of Representatives, representing Iloilo province.
The source disclosed that the government has yet to find a source for the proposed RITM funding, noting the fiscal year is about to end, which means budget allocations for agencies have almost been spent.
Another source revealed Aquino had been informed – every step of the way – about Ona’s alleged special requests like the possible turnover of a high-end P3-million Toyota Land Cruiser for him and an undersecretary, along with a utility Toyota Hilux.
This is apart from allegations of corruption in the procurement of vaccines, the inauguration of a medical facility in northern Luzon that President Aquino cancelled at the last minute, and the proposed P1-billion rehabilitation of state-run Dr. Jose Fabella Memorial Hospital.
On Sept. 1, Aquino made what he himself described as his “shortest speech” in his entire career during the inauguration of the DOH’s vaccination drive against measles and polio.
“I just noticed from my watch that this was probably the shortest speech I gave since I entered politics,” the President said in Filipino before the crowd at Sta. Cruz, Manila about his three-paragraph long speech.
Insiders also stressed this was separate from Palace concerns over the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome–Corona virus where Aquino all of a sudden called for a meeting on a weekend and Ona could barely be located, following a report that an infected Filipino overseas worker had come home, gone to a local resort and left for abroad again.
Malacañang, however, denied persistent reports since last week that Ona was fired by President Aquino, saying the DOH chief only went on a one-month leave and will be back on Nov. 28.
“Secretary Ona’s leave is from Oct. 28 to Nov. 27. So that is his leave period. Nov. 28 is a Friday. So in effect his leave is one month,” Lacierda said.
He said Ona will attend to some personal matters regarding his health. Garin will take over Ona’s place as officer-in-charge of the DOH.
Lacierda clarified that Ona took the leave of absence and was not fired.
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