MANILA – Malacañang on Wednesday said it respects the decision of the Office of the Ombudsman to investigate Health Secretary Francisco Duque III and other officials and employees of the Department of Health (DOH) over alleged irregularities in the agency’s response to coronavirus disease (Covid-19).

Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said the Palace will not interfere with the Ombudsman’s duty since it is an independent constitutional body.

“We will let the process run its course,” Roque said in a statement.

He also urged Duque and the entire DOH bureaucracy to cooperate with the investigation and respect the orders of the Ombudsman.

Ombudsman Samuel Martires ordered an investigation team to probe the purchase of 100,000 test kits by the DOH.

Aside from the test kits, the team will also investigate the delayed procurement of personal protective equipment (PPE) sets and other medical gears as well as lapses and irregularities that led to the death of healthcare workers, the rising number of deaths, and infected healthcare workers.

The probe will also focus on the inaction in the release and processing of benefits and financial assistance for medical front-liners who fell severely ill or died and the confusing and delayed reporting of Covid-19 cases.

The team was instructed to file necessary criminal and/or administrative cases against any official or employee who refuses to cooperate with the ongoing probe.

Senators and other sectors have called for Duque’s resignation for his handling of the Covid-19 health crisis, the alleged overpriced supplies and equipment as well as his recent claim that the country is now experiencing the second wave of Covid-19 infection which he later took back.

President Rodrigo Duterte vouched for Duque, saying he still has his trust and confidence.

Last May 28, Duterte defended Duque from allegations that he was behind the anomalous transactions of medical supplies and equipment, stressing that he himself ordered the supply purchase since he knew the officials and other personnel of the DOH were “overworked.”

“They unfairly dragged the name of Secretary Duque — hindi ho totoo ‘yon. Ang nagbili noon ang budget pati ‘yung Office of the President mismo. Sinadya ko ‘yon para madali (that’s not true. The Department of Budget and Management and the Office of the President ordered the supply purchase. I intentionally did that so it would be quick),” he said.

Duterte also vowed to release an official report on the procurement of medical supplies and equipment on the government’s Covid-19 response efforts after Senators Franklin Drilon and Panfilo “Ping” Lacson claimed that the cost of items bought in response to their allegations that they cost more than the ones bought by the private sector.

He asked the National Bureau of Investigation to carefully study allegations that a local supplier was selling overpriced medical equipment in the country. (PNA)