MANILA— Health Secretary Francisco Duque III on Friday said he is prepared to resign should "if the time comes" but added he must first clear the Department of Health (DOH) of fund use deficiencies flagged by the Commission on Audit.
The health department is currently being scrutinized in Congress after COA spotted deficiencies on how it handled P67 billion COVID-19 pandemic response funds.
Duque had earlier decried such findings in an emotional outburst.
"If the time comes when I need to resign, there’s no problem with me. What is important is we clear all of these findings for purported deficiencies and we will address [these queries] with all my DOH team who worked so hard to lead the fight against this pandemic for 18 months, and we have been relentless," Duque told members of the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee in a hearing.
"If I need to leave, there’s no problem with that, I just want to be cleared of all these COA findings," he added.
The health chief issued the statement after Sen. Christopher "Bong" Go advised him to "make the ultimate sacrifice." Duque, who has several times faced resignation calls, has been staunchly defended by President Rodrigo Duterte.
"You have done so much already for Filipinos... We don't want that your output would be compromised especially now that we both know lives are at stake," said Go.
"My word of advice is make the supreme sacrifice when the right time comes. For now, may hearing naman tayo dito (we have hearings)... Clear yourself and the DOH... and address COA's findings," he added.
When Sen. Panfilo Lacson clarified whether Go was asking Duque to step down from his post, he said that it was only his "advice" because he was just concerned.
"Bigyan po natin sila ng pagkakataon na lumabas nang malinis. Desisyon po 'yun ni Sec. Duque pagdating ng panahon," according to Go.
(Let us give them a chance to come clean. It is still Sec. Duque's decision when the time comes)
Last week, President Rodrigo Duterte said he would not fire Duque "even if it will bring me down."
Duterte added that he would not fire Duque because "there is no corruption, there is no loss of funds" and "whatever be the environment of the time, you have to observe fairness."
But he backtracked on these statements on Wednesday, saying that should Duque "voluntarily" resign, he would accept it.