MANILA—Health Secretary Francisco Duque III should show more "decisiveness" as head of the Philippine government's task force on the COVID-19 pandemic, a predecessor in the department said Tuesday, as cases soared past 112,000 with no signs of slowing down.
Duque has been facing mounting calls to step down for allegedly mishandling the government's pandemic response. But President Rodrigo Duterte has repeatedly come to his defense, arguing that Duque did not "import" the virus to the Philippines.
With the president refusing to sack him despite the perceived blunders, Duque should do some "soul-searching" and consider stepping down, Sen. Nancy Binay said Tuesday.
But former Health Secretary Esperanza Cabral said the decision would ultimately depend on "the limits of his delicadeza (sense of propriety)."
"Iba-iba yung limits natin sa ganyan e," she told ANC's Matters of Fact podcast, citing cases in Japan where government officials would quit their posts for reasons that might be considered "flimsy" here.
"Hindi naman ganun dito sa Pilipinas at hindi lang si Dr. Duque yan. Karamihan sa pinapag-resign, sasabihin, 'Ba't ako magre-resign, wala naman akong ginagawa at ang nag-appoint sa kin ay hindi naman nagsasabi na mag-resign ako?"
Duque chairs the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases, but the government's action plan on the pandemic is implemented largely by retired military generals.
Cabral, who had been occasionally consulted by the task force, rejected the idea that these generals, such as Sec. Carlito Galvez, were "overpowering" the health secretary.
As chief implementor of the government's policy on COVID-19, Galvez "defers" to Duque, who should "exercise more decisiveness and more leadership," said Cabral.
"He can do a better job. He can do a better job leading. He can do a better job communicating," she said.
The Philippines saw a record-high 6,352 new infections, with total confirmed cases surging to 112,593 on Tuesday, as Metro Manila and neighboring provinces returned to stricter lockdowns to slow down virus transmission and allow hospitals to cope.
Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said Monday that the country was “headed in the right direction,” pointing to the relatively low case fatality rate.
“We don’t look at 106,000 cases in the last 5 months as (being) on the right track because half of that actually occurred in the last month or so,” said Cabral, referring to government data as of Monday.