New Duterte appointee quizzed: Are you replacing Duque as health secretary?

Kristine Sabillo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jun 08 2020 08:08 PM | Updated as of Jun 08 2020 09:19 PM

New Duterte appointee quizzed: Are you replacing Duque as health secretary? 1
President Rodrigo Roa Duterte confers with Health Secretary Francisco Duque III during a meeting with members of the Inter-Agency Task Force on the Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) at the Matina Enclaves in Davao City on June 4, 2020. Robinson Niñal, Presidential Photo

MANILA — A recent appointee at the Department of Health has been quizzed about being a possible replacement for embattled Health Secretary Francisco Duque, following a flattering introduction by President Rodrigo Duterte's spokesman. 

Dr. Leopoldo “Bong” Vega, recently named health undersecretary for special concerns, was praised by Duterte for setting up and modernizing the Heart Institute at the Southern Philippines Medical Center in Davao City, said Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque. 

Roque, however, said he does not know if Duterte wanted to replace Duque with Vega.

“Hindi ko alam kung kapalit siya ni Secretary. Pero ang konteksto ng pag-aappoint when I was in Davao was the president was very unhappy with the delay,” he said.

(I’m not sure if he will be asked to replace the Secretary. But the context of his appointment when I was in Davao was that the President was very unhappy with the delay.)

“Hindi po talaga natuwa ang president na na-delay ang pagbigay ng mga benepisyo sa mga frontliners na namatay at nagkasakit at ang sabi nya, kailangan magkaroon ng isang maaasahang tao dyan at that was Undersecretary Vega,” Roque added.

(The President was really not happy with the delay in the benefits for frontliners who died and got sick. And so he said we need a reliable person there and that was Undersecretary Vega.)

Vega refused to comment when asked if he was willing to become health secretary. 

“Well, I don’t think I can answer it right now,” he said. 

“That’s too theoretical. I am just preparing myself for undersecretary so I cannot fathom being secretary at this time,” Vega said.

Vega said he would focus on representing DOH in coordinating with other agencies for now. 

“First of all, there are deliverables and commitments through the Bayanihan Act in terms of the services and the benefits of the frontliners,” he said.

“The testing of the patient and the others who would like to be tested, I think there are so many ways that I can really address the coordination of what the IATF wants and the DOH on what should be delivered to the public,” Vega added.

Duque, who has drawn flak over the agency's slow action on distributing benefits for COVID-19-infected health workers, is also facing criticisms from private and public hospitals over his office's pandemic response. 

As secretary of the Department of Health, Duque is also the chairperson of the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID). 

Asked what he thinks of Vega, Duque told ABS-CBN News in a text message: “I strongly support the President's appointment of Dr. Vega as he is most qualified and has a very good track record of dedicated public service as he led the Southern Philippine Medical Center (SPMC) into unprecedented growth and development thus making it one of the best DOH Medical Centers. I had the privilege of having appointed him as SPMC Medical Center Chief in 2009 during my first stint as SOH (Secretary of Health)."