MANILA – President Rodrigo Duterte said he would take “full responsibility” for ordering the immediate procurement of medical supplies used in the government’s fight against the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) health crisis.
In a meeting with top government officials late Monday night, Duterte bared that he asked Health Secretary Francisco Duque III to speed up the purchase of supplies during the “early days” of the pandemic.
“I would listen to Secretary Duque. But I gave him the instruction and I admit it in public now, it’s being… Sabi ko sa kanya (I told him), ‘do everything you can’. Sabi niya, ‘there’s so many proposition’. ‘I do not care. If it’s not cheap, if it is expensive, go — just go ahead and do something about it,” he said.
Duterte said he had to make a decision, rather than stay “boxed in a corner”.
“Gusto ko lang malaman ng sambayanang Pilipino na (I just want my fellow Filipinos to know) I take full responsibility, na ang utos ko na mag — dalian mo (that my order was to act quickly),” he added.
He recalled how he previously said that it did not matter to him how the funds for the supplies would be sourced.
“I remember saying it. I do not care whether you go and steal, borrow or kill a person to get what — what needs to be done,” he said.
Earlier, Sen. Panfilo Lacson questioned the purchase of supplies including personal protective equipment (PPE) and swabbing system used in the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests since they were more expensive than the ones bought by the private sector.
On Monday, Duterte ordered the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) to investigate the overpricing of Covid-19 testing kits by a local supplier “very carefully”.
“NBI should study the matter very, very carefully kasi alam mo…itong mga p*t*ng*n*ng mga negosyanteng ‘to (because you know, these businessmen) whether it’s really an issue of humanity and their greed,” he said.
‘Don’t be touchy’
Duterte, meanwhile, gave Duque advice on how to handle criticism after the latter’s statement that the country is now experiencing its “second wave” of Covid-19 infections which was rejected by some Cabinet officials.
Some senators and groups have criticized Duque’s handling of the pandemic and called for his resignation.
“Alam mo, huwag kang masyadong ano dito (You know don’t be too) — touchy sa mga (on) issues because always there will be pros and cons,” he told Duque during the same meeting.
He said everyone’s opinion deserved to be heard because it was part of a “democracy”.
“Pakinggan na lang natin (Let’s just listen to them) because this is a democracy. But democracy there is the favor of attacks, issues plus attacking the guy personally ganun,” he said.
Duterte said he understood Duque’s situation, but told him to stand by his statements even if they were unpopular.
“Alam ko ikaw (I know) you are hard-pressed and I know your situation. You just tell us if that’s the — if that is that the one that’s in your — the gray matter between your ears. Ngayon kung ayaw ninyong maniwala, bahala kayo basta ito ‘yung akin (Now, if they don’t want to listen, never mind them, that’s what I think),” he said.
He said it was all right to admit mistakes, especially if they were done without malice.
“Maybe you should adopt that kind of attitude. So be it. If I committed the wrong, as long as there is no malice there,” he said.
Before giving his piece of advice, Duterte asked Duque to explain which wave of infection the country was currently in.
“Are we on the second, third, fourth, or fifth wave? O no wave at all?” Duterte asked.
Duque told Duterte that the country is still on “the first major wave of sustained community transmission”.
He explained that his earlier pronouncement about the country being on the second wave was based on an article that was published by epidemiologist Dr. John Wong of the EpiMetrics.
“Dr. John Wong sits as one of the expert advisers of the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Disease. And to him, as an epidemiologist, a top epidemiologist, he considers the three first cases in the Philippines, although imported, would represent a minor wave. Tapos nagkaroon po tayo ng (Then we had a) lull of about a month, the whole of February. And then March nagkaroon ho tayo ng mga umpisang (we started to have) reported cases,” he said.
There are currently 14,319 confirmed cases of Covid-19 in the country, with 873 deaths and 3,323 recoveries as of May 25. (IA/PNA)