Duterte has 'virtually cleared' Duque of 'any wrongdoing': Lacson

Katrina Domingo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Sep 08 2020 02:48 PM

MANILA - President Rodrigo Duterte has "virtually cleared" Health Secretary Francisco Duque III of any wrongdoing after the chief executive said in a televised address that his Cabinet secretary does not "have any reason to resign," Sen. Panfilo Lacson said Tuesday. 

Duterte said the Department of Health (DOH) chief still enjoys his trust despite being tagged in several anomalies in the Philippine Health Insurance Corp (PhilHealth), where Duque has been part of the board for nearly 2 decades.

Duque is among officials the Senate Committee of the Whole had recommended charged for alleged involvement in anomalies at the state health insurer following an investigation. 

"The executive being an independent and separate branch of government is not bound by the Senate's findings regardless of individual alliances of the majority of its members with the President," Lacson said in a text message to reporters. 

"While the just adopted committee of the whole report contains recommendations involving the filing of charges against several PhilHealth officials including its chairman who is Sec. Duque, it bears watching how the DOJ-led task force will treat those findings and recommendations now that the President has virtually cleared Duque of any wrongdoing," he said. 

Lacson was referring to the inter-agency investigation led by the justice department that Duterte had ordered to look into alleged systemic corruption at PhilHealth. 

Senate President Vicente Sotto III, meanwhile, said "perhaps the President is not aware of the facts" behind allegations against Duque. 

"The President should talk to us and not just listen to the excuses. Better yet, Executive Secretary should have the President read the Senate report," said Sotto who led the legislative chamber in crafting a report that showed how PhilHealth officials allegedly released COVID-19 funds to dialysis centers and maternity clinics illegally.

"They disbursed P14.8 billion in 3 pandemic months illegally. DOH Secretary is unmistakably and irreplaceably the Chair. Ano, wala sya kinalaman (So he did not know anything)?" the Senate President said in a tweet.

Lacson said he is counting on Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra's "known probity" to hold those accountable for the misuse of public funds.

"I would like to think that Sec. Guevarra’s known probity and strong adherence to the rule of law will prevail over partisanship and other political or personal considerations," Lacson said.

Guevarra's team has yet to release findings of the investigation.

Months before the latest PhilHealth mess, 14 senators signed a resolution urging Duque to step down from his post over his alleged failure of leadership amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Senators blamed the health chief for the country's failure to preposition sufficient COVID-19 test kits, and personal protective equipment for health workers, leaving frontliners more vulnerable to the highly-contagious disease.

Lawmakers had also criticized Duque for advising against enforcing a temporary ban on Chinese travelers after the COVID-19 outbreak began in the Chinese city of Wuhan in January, and for failing to trace all individuals who were in contact with the first COVID-19 patients in the country that all came from the said city.

Duque also drew flak earlier this year for mistakenly saying that the Philippines was already experiencing the second wave of COVID-19 cases, when the country has yet to flatten the first wave of coronavirus infections.

Duterte in April snubbed the Senate's call to replace Duque as Health chief.