MANILA - Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said Thursday he was "hurt" when he learned several senators called for his resignation for his "failure of leadership" in addressing the coronavirus crisis.
In an online meeting with House of Representatives members, Duque said he hopes the senators would be "magnanimous" and "appreciative" since the disease has engulfed countries around the globe, triggering a war-like situation.
“I’m really hurt that there is a call for my resignation, when in fact, we need to come together. We need to unite. This is World War 3. This is a war where the enemy is invisible," he told members of the House Defeat COVID-19 Committee in a technical working group meeting.
The Philippine health chief said all Filipinos should unite instead of making resignation calls. He, however, said he respects the Senate's view on his leadership of the Department of Health.
Duque said he would continue to serve as Health Secretary as long as President Rodrigo Duterte approves of his leadership. Duterte has said Duque would stay as health chief.
Earlier Thursday, Senate Resolution No. 362, signed by at least 14 senators, was filed at the Senate, seeking Duque's resignation for his "lack of foresight and inefficiency" in leading the DOH response to the COVID-19 crisis.
"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," the resolution read.
"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.
The senators also 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.
Deputy Minority Leader Carlos Zarate from the Makabayan bloc said he supports the senators' call for Duque's resignation, calling the health chief a symbol of "inefficiency, [and] lack of coherence in the Duterte administration's lethargic response to the crisis brought by the COVID-19."
"His March 11 admission before the House Committee on Health hearing on COVID of his failure to declare a health epidemic as early as Jan. 31 is, in fact, one of the major setbacks why the Philippines was caught gravely unprepared to deal with the pandemic,” Zarate said.
He added: "Duque's failure, and, in general, the earlier nonchalant and dismissive attitude of the Duterte administration in the early phase of the COVID-19 outbreak, are the reasons why the Philippines is now number one in Southeast Asia in terms of COVID cases and casualties.”
- Reports from Zandro Ochona and Katrina Domingo, ABS-CBN News