MANILA — President Rodrigo Duterte said on Monday he would reject any attempt at resignation by Health Secretary Francisco Duque III, whose agency battled questions on its management of some P67 billion in funds to address the COVID-19 crisis.
The Commission on Audit flagged "deficiencies" in the use of funds that led to "missed opportunities" to fight the pandemic. Auditors said some of the agency's purchases lacked documentation, had "doubtful" liquidations, had no legal basis, and other deficiencies.
"Alam ko gusto mo nang mag-resign, pero alam mo rin na tatanggihan kita ngayon," Duterte told Duque in a taped meeting that aired in the wee hours of Tuesday.
(I know you want to resign, but you know that I will refuse you.)
"Noon you have attempted to resign twice. I expect you to say something to me after this, mag-resign ka. Sabihin ko sa iyo, hindi. Wala ka namang ginawang masama. Bakit ka mag-resign?" the President continued.
(You have attempted to resign twice before. I expect you to say something to me after this, that you'll resign. I tell you, no. You did nothing wrong. Why will you resign?)
The President has repeatedly rejected calls for the firing of the Health chief over his response to the COVID-19 pandemic and the P15-billion corruption allegation against medical state insurer PhilHealth, whose board is chaired by Duque.
Duque has said his agency was ready to show that it spent taxpayers' money well.
"The Php 67.3 billion is accounted for. Wala pong kinurakot, inilaan natin ang mga pondong ito para sa ating mga kababayan," he said.
(There is no corruption, all these funds were allocated for our countrymen.)
In his speech, the President said the documents that government auditor had were "really insufficient and deficient."
"Huwag ka munang mag-audit hanggang hindi pa natapos ang trabaho ko," Duterte said, appearing to address COA. "Iyan lang naman sana ang hinihingi natin. Do not conduct an audit on our work na ongoing pa kasi dino-document pa ‘yan."
(Do not audit while my work is not yet finished. That is all we are asking. Do not conduct an audit on our ongoing work because that is still being documented.)
"In the end, if you find that there is --- mga nawala diyan, mga 500 pesos, eh ‘di magdemanda kayo, punta ng Supreme Court. The Supreme Court will be a fair arbiter of things," added the President.
(In the end if you find that something was lost there, even P500, file charges, go to the Supreme Court.)
In 2016, Duterte promised voters that he would crush corruption, crime, and drugs in 3 to 6 months within taking office.
But his administration has been dogged by scandals and allegations of graft and cover-ups in state agencies ranging from prisons, the state insurer, immigration, airports and customs, to police and the drugs enforcement agency, few of which led to convictions or high-profile resignations.
The Philippines fell 14 notches to 113th spot among 180 countries in Transparency International's Corruption Perceptions Index in 2019. Last year, the country further slipped to 115th.
– With a report from Reuters