MANILA – Department of Health (DOH) Secretary Francisco Duque III still has the trust and confidence of President Rodrigo Duterte despite senators scolding him for the apparent lack of command responsibility in dealing with the novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) situation in the country.
Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles made this remark after opposition Senator Francis Pangilinan, in a Senate hearing on Tuesday, criticized Duque for not knowing details involving the spread of the disease, particularly the number of visitors from Wuhan City in Hubei province, China who were undergoing contact tracing.
Nograles called Pangilinan’s remark an “unfair allegation”, saying a lapse that could easily be rectified did not mean that the DOH’s efforts to prevent the further spread of the disease were a total failure.
He said Duque has given his subordinates two days to complete the contact tracing of plane passengers who traveled with the Chinese couple found infected with 2019-nCoV.
“I think that’s a very unfair allegation. Maybe there are lapses but that will be rectified. In fact, Secretary Duque already said that within two days, 100 percent na yung contact tracing (contact tracing would be 100 percent completed),” Nograles said in a media interview in Malacañang on Wednesday.
He said the public should also “look at the bigger picture” by acknowledging the agency’s effort to ensure the safety and health of all Filipinos against the deadly virus.
Nograles lamented that the public was “pounding on the weakness” in contact tracing, but emphasized that it was not the correct way of managing an ongoing health crisis.
“You should look at their different aspects in terms of the management of the situation. There are several other aspects the quarantine, health care, the testing, the protocols, coordination of different agencies, coordination with WHO (World Health Organization),” he said.
Nograles said the best way to handle the situation was to “move forward” as it was not the only aspect that required immediate attention.
“Let’s not take away all of the other efforts that the DOH family is doing. Let’s not take that away from them. Mahirap ang trabaho na ginagawa ng mga health workers natin (The job of our health workers is difficult),” he said. “There was a lapse, it was admitted, and it will be rectified and we hope the public will continue to support and not constantly look at just one lapse and say failure na lahat (everything is a failure). I think given the circumstances, our health workers have done a pretty good job.”
Following calls for Duque’s resignation, Nograles said it was improper for the DOH chief to step down at a time when he is needed the most.
Nograles said the President did not express disappointment over Duque during Tuesday night’s 46th Cabinet meeting even after he was chided during the Senate hearing earlier on the same day.
“The President still has his trust and confidence kay (on) Secretary Duque and at this point in time na umaarangkada naman at ginagawa naman ang DOH lahat (that the DOH is doing everything it can), I think it’s not the call of the time to do something as drastic as that,” he said. “We have utmost trust and confidence in Secretary Duque that he can do more and perform more. With all of the circumstances, he’s hands-on with everything, he’s done his job so far.”
To visit or not to visit?
As the first batch of Filipino repatriates from Wuhan, the epicenter of the 2019-nCoV outbreak in China, is set to arrive this weekend, Nograles said it was unclear whether the President would be visiting them while they undergo the mandatory 14-day quarantine.
He said despite the President’s willingness to visit the Filipino repatriates, the final decision would be made by the Presidential Security Group (PSG) and the Presidential Management Staff (PMS).
“He (Duterte) wants to be there but there’s still a discussion. That’s going to be a debate between the President and the PSG and the PMS. He wants to keep doing things he’s doing with imposing limitations to his movement,” Nograles said.
He also assured that Duterte would look after his health despite the Chief Executive’s admission that he continues to shake hands during public engagements.
During a recent Cabinet meeting, Duterte ordered Duque to go to the site to do an ocular inspection and properly address the Filipino repatriates.
The first batch of Filipino repatriates is expected to arrive at the Clark Airport on Saturday. They will immediately be transported to the Fort Magsaysay Drug Rehabilitation Center in Nueva Ecija for the mandatory 14-day quarantine.
About 42 Filipinos in Hubei, mostly from Wuhan, have expressed their desire to return home.
Data from the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) showed that there are a total of 300 Filipinos in Hubei, including 150 in Wuhan.
Meanwhile, Nograles allayed the fears of residents living near the quarantine facility in Nueva Ecija that it would increase their chance of exposure to the virus.
“All quarantine measures will be at its highest level there. All our medical health workers who go in and out of that facility will undergo such extensive quarantine medical protocol so that’s probably going to be the safest place in terms of quarantine protocols and procedures,” he said. “Dapat di sila mag-alala (They shouldn’t worry).”
Nograles, meanwhile, reassured Filipinos who were barred from traveling to China and its Special Administrative Regions Hong Kong and Macau for work that the President would lift the temporary travel ban once the health crisis tapers off.
“We realize the concern for their jobs there but we have to balance that with public health, public safety,” he said. “Anyway, it’s not a permanent ban. It’s not something that we won’t be lifting as the situation normalizes or if there’s a better guarantee of the safety and health of our Filipino workers.”
He said the Department of Labor and Employment would also ensure that affected overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) have the opportunity to be redeployed to other countries and receive livelihood assistance. (IA/SPH.com/PNA)