(Second of a Series)
The week National Task Force adviser Dr. Tony Leachon was sacked, he gave this prognosis: “I think Secretary Francisco Duque III needs a guiding coalition from the academe or private sector because the job of the secretary right now is very tough, and perhaps needs to develop a new vision, strategy for the next three (3) months.”
Leachon also said that it was time to “regroup” as the Philippines now has “two epicenters” of the coronavirus outbreak, which has made managing it even more challenging.
“I would say that (the Secretary) needs to hear the voices of the people, and perhaps reflect on some of the plans or measures,” Leachon said.
Now he is even quoted saying: “We failed to communicate properly. We failed to communicate on a regular basis. We failed to communicate what is true. We failed to communicate what is timely and right. We failed to communicate the game plan, the vision and the road map na gagawin ng bayan (that we will execute).”
Leachon admitted waxing emotional when he twitted out statements that eventually made NTF implementer Charlie Galvez to boot him out.
But he voiced out his concerns because according to him, it was his “moral responsibility to tell the truth.”
Cebu sparks the conflict
The doctor said he made those comments after Galvez and he toured Cebu City and found out that the data DOH was releasing data that were one to two months late despite the fact that he was requesting the DOH to release granular data of Covid-19 cases since he met with President Rodrigo Duterte on April 20.
“If the people around (the President) will not give him proper and accurate data, mahihirapan po tayo diyan (it would be difficult for us),” Leachon added.
“”Who would account for the 17% unemployment rate? Who would account for the deaths of the health workers? Who would account for the economic depression? (These are) anchored on real time and granularity of the data,”
Epidemiologists and other experts have long admitted the lag in data, a natural consequence of overwhelmed systems and human error.
But Carlito Galvez, National Task Force head, wanted criticisms be done internally. As a result, the President who was stonewalling for Duque got miffed with Leachon’s public disclosure.
But the case of Cebu City being returned to Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) seems to vindicate Leachon’s observations.
According to data presented by Malacanang recently, the majority of Cebu City’s 80 barangays have active Covid-19 cases, 13 of them considered “worst hit.”
Its virus transmission rate, meanwhile, was 1.3 percent, higher than the national average of 1.07 percent. Another source placed it even higher at 2.
While the health system in Cebu City has not reached critical level, as far as the DOH is concerned, it is yet now in the “warning zone” as 3,987 cases has hit Cebu City, a week before this writing.
Obviously alarmed, the President called on the military and the police to put up checkpoints all over the city and named (DENR Secretary) Roy Cimatu as deputy implementer of the NTF, curiously under Galvez his former junior in the military.
Practitioners cross swords
Menwhile, a battle among health professionals has ensued.
In a letter to Malacanang, Dr. Rustico Jimenez, president of Private Hospitals Association of the Philippines, Inc. (PHAPi) wrote that Secretary Duque “seems to be already so exhausted that there is need for a fresh blood and a fresh mind to lead the Department of Health and the state health insurer Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth).”
The association said Duque is responsible over delays in the release of the interim reimbursement mechanism that serves as financial aid to most hospitals that have become financially drained because of the Covid-19 crisis.
The Alliance of Health Workers (AHW) national president Robert Mendoza said “We have been fighting the Covid-19 pandemic for nearly 5 months now, but the DOH and Secretary Duque still has no clear and comprehensive plans on how to combat the deadly virus and the health workers’ situation are getting worse,” he explained.
As of June 22, there are 3,122 health workers who have contracted Covid-19, thirty-three of whom have died while 2,235 have recovered.
Despite the large number of recoveries, the 3,122 comprises 10 percent of the total number of COVID-19 cases that day, which was then at 30,682.
While the percentage has decreased, this is still far from the World Health Organization’s recorded average infection rates among health workers in the Asia Pacific region, which was at just two percent.
Despite damning statistics, medical and hospital associations nationwide however expressed their support for the health secretary in a solidarity statement. The Philippine Medical Association (PMA), Philippine Hospital Association (PHA), Private Hospital Association of the Philippines (PHAPi), and the Philippine College of Hospital Administrators (PCHA) lauded how Duque has led the Department of Health in dealing with the pandemic.
Thinking Pinoy has been calling for Duque’s termination since 2017 but says he cannot support it right now due to some pragmatic reasons, like:
“I expect Duque’s replacement to face massive bureaucratic resistance, especially among DOH officials who greatly benefitted from his reign. I expect this to slow down the already slow DOH, to the detriment of public interest.
“To cut a long story short, I want Duque gone in government, but not during the height of the COVID-19 epidemic because replacing that idiot right now may do Filipinos more harm than good.”
There is a talk, however that persists on how Secretary Duque and his brother Gonzalo Duque has contributed gold to his political campaigns. Gonzalo is the first expert at bangus aquaculture to have been appointed chairman of the Philippine Coconut Authority.
Gonzalo and his brother, Francisco the besieged secretary of the Department of Health (DOH), are both facing plunder and graft cases at the Office of the Ombudsman over a lease contract between Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth) and the Duque family-owned corporation.
Among the additional issues to be investigated according to Ombudsman Samuel Martires are:
- the delayed procurement of personal protective equipment (PPE), other medical gear necessary for the protection of healthcare workers, and test kits.
- alleged lapses and irregularities that led to the death of medical workers and the rising number of deaths and infected medical front-liners
- inaction in the release and processing of benefits and financial assistance of “fallen” and infected medical front liners
- the confusing and delayed reporting of Covid-19 related deaths and confirmed cases
But the President has already lawyered ahead for Duque expressing confidence that health secretary can defend himself in the impending Ombudsman investigation. Many are perplexed why is he doing the talking for his beleaguered Secretary of Health? His judgment call should be guided only by public interest.
As if this were not enough, Secretary Duque blamed his subordinates over the delayed payment of release of the P1-million indemnity to the families of the 32 medical workers who succumbed to Covid-19.
Duque said “Kasi nakakahiya talaga, Sir. Namatayan nga tapos nagpa-wardi-wardi yung mga tao ko na parang walang sense of urgency. Kaya po ang sama-sama po ng loob ko, Mr. President.” (It is a shame, sir. Health workers have already died, but some of my people are bungling their job, as if they have no sense of urgency. So I really feel bad about this, Mr. President.)
It was disclosed during a Senate session earlier this week that the cash benefits provided under the said law have yet to be released due to the absence of implementing rules and regulations.
While the chief executive threatened to fire DOH officials responsible for the delayed compensation, he seemed to have spared Duque and even gave him “full authority” to assemble a team even giving him extra time to release the delayed compensation.
“While I expressed disappointment towards some members of my team, I acknowledge that this is still my responsibility as SOH (Secretary of Health),” Duque said in a tweet.
That was how the dog-and-pony show went.
Magalong thumbs down Duque
Obviously, Duque needs a primer on management from Baguio City Mayor Benjie Magalong who made this FB post:
“Genuine leaders take responsibility for their actions. They don’t pass the blame to their subordinates. They don’t pretend to assume responsibility for failures only to deflect blame and point their fingers at others,” he added.
The mayor of Baguio said the relief of the health reform advocate Leachon as adviser to the National Task Force is “a big loss” to our offense and defense against the unseen enemy. His expertise and services are invaluable as the country remains in the throes of the contagion,” Magalong added.
He also disclosed that he had Leachon as a “personal adviser” for Baguio City’s response against the coronavirus, which has been widely praised, even by the national government.
“He is very objective, selfless and remarkably professional. I believe we both are passionate in communicating the truth to the public. I truly lament Dr. Leachon’s departure,” Magalong said.
So again I ask, “Did the President fire the wrong man?”
With that, I rest my case. (ia/SovereignPH.com)