'Nagkamali 'yan': Duque denies replacing RITM head

Gillan Ropero, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Mar 23 2020 10:00 AM | Updated as of Mar 23 2020 01:38 PM

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MANILA (UPDATE) - Health Secretary Francisco Duque on Monday denied replacing the head of a health research facility leading the country's testing for COVID-19.

Over the weekend, an appointment paper of Health Assistant Secretary Nestor Santiago replacing Dr. Celia Carlos as head of the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM) went viral on social media.

The health chief supposedly gave the order after Carlos refused to prioritize politicians in testing for COVID-19.

Duque, however, said his executive assistant made a mistake and that he only ordered Santiago to be given oversight powers.

"Hindi, nagkamali 'yan. Inamin na 'yan ng aking head executive assistant. Ang nailagay nila 'yung designation na director. Ang sinabi ko magkaroon ng oversight lamang para makatulong kay director Celia Carlos sa pagpapalawig ng testing capacity," he told radio DZMM.

(No, it was a mistake. My head executive assistant has owned up to it. They put the designation of Santiago as director when I asked to give him oversight in order to help Director Celia Carlos in expanding our testing capacity.)

"Kasi siyempre overwhelmed na rin 'yung director ko na 'yan who is technically competent. I have no doubt about his technical expertise. Ang kailangan lang niya 'yung management ng expansion ng test labs natin. So pinasok ko si Asec Nestor Santiago."

(Because of course my director, who is technically competent, is overwhelmed. I have no doubt about his technical expertise. He just needs to manage the expansion of our test so I put Santiago there.)

The health department, in a letter dated Monday, issued a clarification that Carlos remains as the director of RITM, which has been placed under the supervision of Santiago.

"Asec. Santiago shall guide and manage the expansion of testing capacity to public and private laboratories and attend to coordination with other agencies," it said.

"The circulating issuance stating that Dir. Carlos has been replaced by Asec. Santiago is an erroneous draft of the document which was inadvertently posted but immediately taken down."

Department of Health/Handout

As of Saturday, there are 5 subnational laboratories processing the COVID-19 testing: the RITM, Baguio General Hospital and Medical Center, Vicente Sotto Memorial Medical Center in Cebu, and the Southern Philippines Medical Center in Davao City. 

The additional laboratories allow 1,000 tests to be processed daily, Duque said, which will raise the country's COVID-19 cases but lower its mortality rate.

"Talagang tataas ito. At ang kabutihan dito, mas lumiliwanag yung talaga bilang ng positives at negatives," he said.

(It will really go up. What's good here is light is being shed on the positive and negative cases.)

"Bumaba na 'yung ating case fatality rate, bababa pa ito. Mas mapapalawag natin ang test natin, karamihan malamang mild cases pa, ganun din ang experience sa China, 80 percent mild cases."

(Our case fatality rate has gone down, it will further decline the more we expand our testing. Most of these will probably be mild cases as with China's experience where 80 percent were mild cases.)

As of Sunday, the country has recorded 380 cases of COVID-19, including 25 deaths and 17 recoveries.