Palace denies Cabinet officials interfering in local virus response

Arianne Merez, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Aug 18 2020 03:20 PM

Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez and Health Secretary Francisco Duque III during the launch of C.O.D.E. or the Coordinated Operations to Defeat Epidemic organized by the government’s COVID-19 response team and the provincial government of Rizal at the Ynares Center, Ynares Compound, Antipolo City on August 12, 2020. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

MANILA - Malacañang denied Tuesday that Cabinet officials tasked to oversee the coronavirus response in select urban hubs and provinces were interfering with with local government units.

Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said the alter egos of President Rodrigo Duterte were only meant to support LGUs in their handling of the COVID-19 outbreak.

"It is not our intention to interfere with the work of the local government units. Nagbigay lang po kami ng suporta (We only provide support)," Roque said during a Palace press briefing.

Roque made the statement in response to opposition Sen. Risa Hontiveros' call for an investigation into the assignment of Cabinet officials, saying the "micromanagement" strategy has been interfering with the local government units' autonomy.

The system was introduced 5 months into the COVID-19 crisis in the country, as cases surged.

Hontiveros questioned the capacity of several members of the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) on COVID-19 in spearheading the fight against the pandemic.

"Wala pong panghihimasok ang ginagawa namin. Tinatanong lang po namin paano makakatulong ang pang-national na gobyerno sa mga lokal na pamahalaan," Roque said.

(There is no interference. We only ask how the national government can help local government units.)

COVID-19 policy chief implementer Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr. echoed Roque, saying the system is meant to help LGUs.

"Main objective po natin ay para matulungan po natin at maibigay po natin 'yung kinakailangan doon sa baba. Ito po ay hindi interference dahil alam po natin, ang LGU alam po nila ang kanilang ginagawa," he said.

(Our main objective is to help those at the ground level. This is not interference because the LGUs already know what they are doing.)

Last week, Cabinet secretaries were given corresponding city and provincial assignments to "provide stronger support" to local government units where some areas have high community transmission of the virus.

The officials were tasked to monitor health system performance, critical care capacity, and compliance to COVID-19 response protocols set by the national government in their respective assignments.