Senators demand Health Secretary Duque's resignation over coronavirus crisis

Katrina Domingo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Apr 16 2020 12:57 PM | Updated as of Apr 16 2020 06:43 PM

Palace says Duterte to keep Duque as health chief

MANILA (4th UPDATE) Several senators on Thursday filed a resolution calling for the resignation of Health Secretary Francisco Duque III for his "failure of leadership" in addressing the coronavirus crisis.

At least 14 senators signed Senate Resolution No. 362 against Duque, citing the health chief's "lack of foresight and inefficiency" as ground for his removal from office.

"Knowing fully well the danger posed by the COVID-19 pandemic in the beginning of the year, Secretary Duque failed to put in place the necessary precautionary measures to lessen, if not at all prevent, the impact of this health crisis," said the resolution, a copy of which was obtained by ABS-CBN News. 

"Rather than providing enlightening viewpoint on the problems and challenges confronting the country in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, the present Secretary's actions... show lack of competence, efficiency, and foresight bordering on negligence in handling the health crisis," it said.

The resolution was filed 11:49 a.m., Thursday. 

The following senators, mostly allied with the administration, signed the resolution:

  • Senate President Vicente Sotto III
  • Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri
  • Sen. Sonny Angara
  • Sen. Nancy Binay
  • Sen. Grace Poe
  • Sen. Manny Pacquiao
  • Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian
  • Sen. Francis Tolentino
  • Sen. Joel Villanueva
  • Sen. Ronald Dela Rosa
  • Sen. Imee Marcos
  • Sen. Ramon "Bong" Revilla Jr.
  • Sen. Lito Lapid
  • Sen. Panfilo Lacson

Senators said several DOH policies led to the spread of COVID-19 in the country, eventually making the Philippines the Southeast Asian nation with the most number of coronavirus cases.


The Department of Health did not only fail to immediately suspend travel to and from China, where the virus first emerged, but Duque even "warned [Congress] of the repercussions of banning flights," the resolution said.

While Duque "strongly recommended" a travel ban from Hubei province, the Health chief said the Philippines needs to wait for a risk assessment before implementing a total travel ban to China.

"We have to be very careful also of possible repercussions of doing this, in light of the fact that confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus are not limited to China," Duque told House members during a January 29 question hour.

After a Chinese tourist who arrived in the Philippines tested positive for the disease, contact tracing was "hampered and delayed" due to the DOH's "lack of coordination" with the Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB) and Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP), according to the resolution.

In February, Duque blamed 2 airlines for the delayed contact tracing, alleging that the carriers refused to coordinate with Health officials. Cebu Pacific and Philippine Airlines denied the allegations.

"Contact tracing was hampered and delayed possibly resulting in the failure to prevent the initial spreading of the virus," it said.


Senators who called for Duque's resignation also underscored how the DOH's lack of transparency worsened the coronavirus crisis in the country.

"Secretary Duque failed to alert the medical community and fundamentally the public, that there were already patients admitted in health facilities exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms, insisting in his press conferences that the Philippines had zero cases of local transmission, thus exposing many Filipinos, especially health care workers to the dangers of the disease."

Lawmakers admonished Duque for reprimanding health institutions and officials who spoke about the current state of their facilities and health workers during the coronavirus crisis.

"Secretary Duque even denounced the Cardinal Santos Medical Center (CSMC) for making a public disclosure that they initially admitted the first reported case of local transmission of COVID-19," the resolution noted.

Senators also criticized Duque for issuing a gag order against National Center for Mental Health (NCMH) chief administrative officer Clarita Avila after she told reporters that 34 staff members of the mental facility tested positive for COVID-19 due to the lack of personal protective equipment (PPEs).

The DOH eventually ordered Avila's transfer to a Las Piñas drug rehabilitation facility. 


"Secretary Duque showed lack of foresight by not immediately stockpiling and making the kits available to the general population," the resolution read. 

"The Philippines has been among the countries with the highest rates of COVID-19-related infection and deaths of health care workers in the world" due to the DOH's failure to procure medical supplies in advance, the senators said.

"DOH's failure to provide adequate personal protective equipment for healthcare workers - as evidenced by the need to appeal for donations from private citizens - poses great hazard to the well-being of our frontliners," the resolution read.

The delayed release of information about new cases, as well as the late accreditation of testing centers have affected the ability of local government units to respond to the global pandemic, the lawmaker said.

"Due to the improper advice and manner of handling the present pandemic by our Department of Health officials, our country is foreseen to face quite negative dynamics in the coming weeks due to the inefficiency of government management," it read.


Contradicting policies also solidified allegations that there was a failure of leadership in the DOH, the senators said in their resolution.

The Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) for the coronavirus crisis required people to wear face masks in public places despite Duque's earlier statement that healthy individuals do not need to wear personal protective equipment.

Senators also reprimanded the DOH for offering a P500 daily compensation for doctors, nurses and nursing assistants who responded to its call for volunteers as hospitals were overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients and suspect cases.

"The medical community felt insulted with such little consideration in exchange for putting themselves in harm's way... the rate is an insult to an already demoralized and exhausted workforce," the senators said.

Duque also "refused" to allow "graduates of medical schools to render medical sevices under special authorization" even if it was allowed under Section 12 of the Medical Act since there was already a "mounting death toll among health professionals."

The IATF eventually allowed medicine graduates yet to obtain their license to help out on a limited capacity. 


Senators called on the executive department to appoint a "competent" Health secretary to address the coronavirus crisis in the country.

"We all agreed not to recommend any replacement... We are simply for a competent Secretary of Health. Take note: not more competent, but simply a competent one at the helm," Lacson told reporters in a text message.

The minority bloc "supports the resolution," Sen. Francis "Kiko" Pangilinan said in a statement.

"Mahigit dalawang buwan na ang nakalipas pero wala pa rin kaming nakikitang pagbabago sa makupad at malabong pagpapatupad ng mga anti-COVID effort," he said.

(It has been 2 months but we have not seen any changes in the slow and unclear implementation of anti-COVID efforts.)

"Kailangan mas bibo ang liderato dito laban sa virus," Angara said in a separate statement.

"We were late for testing, contact tracing is almost non-existent, hospitals short of protective gear -- we need to be better," said the senator, who had contracted the disease and recovered. 


Duque did not categorically snub the senators' call for him to step down, but said that he would "continue to serve the country to the best of my [his] abilities."

"I will continue to serve the country to the best of my abilities," Duque said in a statement hours after the Senate resolution was filed.

"We will answer these allegations in due time, but right now, we will continue to be in the trenches with our health care workers and frontliners," he said.

"Let us work as a team, as one country fighting for the health and safety of all," he said.

The Senate is expected to tackle the resolution once the legislative chamber resumes session on May 4, 2020.

The resolution is expected to be referred to the Senate Health Committee. The panel's chair, Sen. Christopher "Bong" Go, did not sign the resolution calling for Duque's resignation.

In a statement, Go said it would be hard to replace the DOH chief at a time of crisis. 

"Nirerespeto ko ang posisyon ng mga kasamahan ko sa Senado at sumasang-ayon ako na mayroong mga pagkukulang, hindi lang si Secretary Duque, kundi ang buong DOH," Go said in a statement.

(I respect the position of my colleagues in Senate and I agree that there were lapses, not just on the part of Secretary Duque, but the entire DOH.)

"Pero nais ko rin ipahatid ang aking posisyon na sa panahong ito, mahirap na magpalit pa tayo ng 'kapitan' sa gitna ng digmaan," he said.

(But I also want to convey my stance that in times like this, it is hard to change the captain in the middle of the war.)

"Tulungan nalang natin siya at magbayanihan tayo para mas mabilis nating malampasan ang pagsubok na ito... Kung merong dapat managot, papanagutin natin sa tamang panahon," he said.

(Let us just help him so that we can quickly get past this trial... If someone needs to be held accountable, let us go after them at the right time.)

Sotto earlier rebuffed concerns about replacing Duque in the middle of a pandemic. 

"Sa laban ba kapag panay ang pagkakamali nung captain ball, hindi mo na papalitan?" Sotto told reporters when sought for comment.

(In a match, if your captain ball keeps on committing mistakes, would you not pull him out of the game?)

Go, meanwhile, said the Senate resolution should be "an eye-opener for the DOH to shape up."

"Wala silang excuse dahil ibinigay naman ng Pangulo ang lahat ng tiwala at resources upang magawa nila ang kanilang mandato," Go said.

(They have no excuse because the President gave them his trust and all resources needed for them to fulfill their mandate.)

"Kailangan rin nilang (DOH) mas makinig sa mga hinanaing ng mga tao at sa mga senador na kinatawan ng mga mamamayang Pilipino," he said.

(They also need to listen to the grievances of the public and of senators who represent the Filipino people.)


Shortly after the DOH chief released his statement, Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea said that President Rodrigo Duterte has decided to keep Duque as Health secretary.

"The President has made a decision for Health Secretary Duque to stay put," Medialdea said.

"Secretary Duque was made aware of the sentiments of the Senators and the President expects him to work even harder to set aside any doubts on his capacity and sincerity to serve the public during these difficult times," he said.