Some senators unimpressed with Duque's chairmanship of WHO regional committee session

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Oct 07 2020 08:54 PM

MANILA — Some senators said Wednesday they are not impressed with the election of Health Secretary Francisco Duque III as chairman of the World Health Organization Western Pacific’s annual regional committee session.

Senator Sonny Angara, one of those who sponsored Senate Resolution No. 362 last April calling for Duque’s resignation, merely shrugged his shoulders when sought for reaction about Duque’s post in the WHO’s regional committee session.

While it is “prestigious” for the Philippines, Angara said maybe it is WHO's way saying that the country needs to be more in sync with the world’s best practices in terms of responding to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.

“The idea there is, para mas in sync tayo with what the best practices of the world are. Because 'yun nga, pumasok tayo ng top 20, top 19 sa COVID-19 figures. So clearly, there’s room for improvement sa COVID-19 response natin for health,” said Angara.

(The idea there is for our country to be more in sync with the best practices of the world when it comes to responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. We are now among the top 20 countries with the highest number of COVID-19 infections. So clearly, there's room for improvement when it comes to our coronavirus response.)

Angara is one of the two senators who contracted the infectious disease in the early months of the pandemic in the country.

The WHO Regional Office for the Western Pacific told ABS-CBN News that Duque was elected unopposed by other member states. It also explained that the role of chair is shared by the different countries each year.

Senator Panfilo Lacson said the WHO officials’ impression on Duque was entirely different from the Senate, which repeatedly launched investigations on the health secretary.

Lacson was referring to various public health-related investigations of the Senate in the past, aside from the alleged anomalies hounding the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth). Duque chairs the PhilHealth board.

“Ang Senate, up close, nakita namin ang sabihin na nating inefficiency in the performance. Hindi lang itong latest investigation sa PhilHealth pero even before that. Nagkaroon ng investigation, nakita namin ang conflict of interest,” Lacson said.

(The Senate, up close, saw what we can say is inefficiency in the performance, not only in this latest investigation on PhilHealth, but even before that. We had investigations and we saw conflict of interest.)

“Ang response sa coronavirus, wanting kasi. Ang contact tracing sa Wuhan couple, hindi na-address… Iba rin ang perspective ng WHO in electing him sa ganoong position. So, kanya-kanyang perspective,” he added.

(The response to the coronavirus pandemic is wanting. The contact tracing for the Wuhan couple wasn't addressed... The perspective of the WHO in electing him to that position is different. So, we have our own perspectives.)

Despite the international community’s recognition of Duque, he said his impression on the health secretary remained the same.

Senate President Vicente Sotto III, meanwhile, dismissed the significance of Duque’s new position, with respect to the official’s integrity and capabilities.

“Nag-imbestiga ba yung WHO? Committee of the Whole yung nag-imbestiga eh,” Sotto told reporters in a virtual news conference.

(Did the WHO investigate him? It was the Committee of the Whole that investigated him.)

Sotto believed Duque’s role in the WHO will be different from his responsibilities in the country as health chief.

“Just give it to him. Congratulations doon. But as far as PhilHealth is concerned and the performance of the Department of Health (DOH) is concerned, the Committee of the Whole… majority of the members of the Senate are not satisfied,” he said.

The DOH said the WHO’s regional committee meets annually “to formulate policies, provide oversight for regional programs, report on the progress of their projects, and consider, revise and endorse new initiatives.” Decisions adopted from the session will guide the work of the regional office for the next year.

--- Report from Sherrie Ann Torres, ABS-CBN News