MANILA - Health Secretary Francisco Duque III should take a leave of absence while the Ombudsman is looking into alleged irregularities in the Department of Health's COVID-19 response, Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian said Thursday.
Ombudsman Samuel Martires earlier said he has formed teams to look into alleged lapses by the DOH, weeks after reports of overpriced test kits and other coronavirus-related equipment surfaced.
"To make the investigation impartial, I think the best and the most appropriate thing to do is to take a leave of absence at the very least," Gatchalian told reporters when asked for comment.
"You can influence the information that the Ombudsman will request from the agency [so] I think it is appropriate to take a leave," he said.
The government's fight against COVID-19 would not be hindered by Duque's absence, the senator said, noting that the DOH is not the sole agency in charge of testing, delivery of personal protective equipment and other related programs.
"The bulk of the activity is now outside the DOH and nakita ko maraming undersecretary na kaya naman pagdating sa epidemiology and public health advice," he said.
President Rodrigo Duterte's spokesperson earlier said that the chief executive is confident that Duque can answer all of the allegations before the Ombudsman.
Duterte has repeatedly backed Duque even after senators and health stakeholders demanded for the Health chief's resignation due to his "failure in leadership" and "incompetence" during the COVID-19 crisis.