MANILA - Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon on Tuesday blamed Health Secretary Francisco Duque III's "poor health management" performance for the thousands of COVID-19 deaths in the Philippines, which now has the highest number of COVID-19 cases in Southeast Asia.
Duque's "lack of urgency" resulted in nearly 3,000 deaths and 164,000 COVID-19 cases, Drilon said in a hearing of the Senate Committee of the Whole on alleged corruption at the Philippine Health Insurance Corp (PhilHealth).
"His lack of urgency has led the country down a road paved with literal deaths of our citizens," he said.
"When the Health secretary spends official time handing out washable face masks, acting like a candidate for office, instead of the country's top Health official in the middle of a health emergency, we really have a problem," he said, in reference to Duque's recent public appearance to distribute protective gear.
Drilon noted that in the first quarter of 2020, the Health chief was "reluctant" to ban Chinese nations from coming to the Philippines despite the outbreak of COVID-19 in Wuhan, China.
The first cases of the virus in the country were travelers from Wuhan, where the disease had originated.
"This was even after local quarantine authorities stopped 5 Chinese tourists with fever from entering ports in Kalibo and Cebu," Drilon said.
"As late as March 6, the Secretary of Health was still advising the general public not to wear face masks," he said.
Duque was also to blame for the reported irregularities in the state-run insurance firm as he has been of the PhilHealth board since 2001, the Senate Minority Leader said.
Duque belied the allegations, and told senators that he shares their "endeavor of holding accountable public officers and upholding public office as a public trust."
"I am unflinching in my battles not only to protect my character as a public servant, but also in the fight to implement President Rodrigo Duterte's global vision for genuine universal health care access and to ensure we come out of the pandemic healthy as a nation," he said.
Senators earlier called on Duque to resign for his alleged lapses in addressing the COVID-19 pandemic, but President Rodrigo Duterte rejected such pleas.