President Rodrigo Duterte and Health Secretary Francisco Duque III. (Presidential photo)

MANILA – President Rodrigo Duterte is not using Health Secretary Francisco Duque III as a scapegoat for the alleged lapses in the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) response of the national government, Malacañang said on Wednesday.

Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque rejected the statement made by detained Senator Leila de Lima that Duque has not been fired from his post because the President needs a “whipping boy” as the country continues to grapple with the prevailing pandemic.

“I read the same papers and I watch the same news as Senator Leila de Lima, I can tell you the President has not been treating Secretary Duque as a whipping boy,” Roque said in an interview over CNN Philippines.

Roque, however, admitted that many have been asking him why the President has not considered blaming Duque for the health-related issues hounding the country.

“The question I’m asked more often is ‘why not?’ But it has never been the case that I think the President has ever used him as a whipping boy,” he said.

Roque said Duque continues to enjoy the President’s trust and confidence, even giving him advice on how to handle criticism after making honest mistakes.

“He’s’ (Duterte) always been supportive of Secretary Duque. He says mistakes have been made. For as long as his mistakes were done in good faith, it’s no reason for him to lose confidence,” he added.

In a handwritten note issued from the Philippine National Police Custodial Center where she is detained on drug-related charges, de Lima claimed that the President is letting Duque act as “captain of the sinking ship.”

“My guess is the President just needs a whipping boy for the tragedy that they themselves have brought to our nation. Kaya siguro hindi niyo matanggal-tanggal para laging may masisisi ang taumbayan (Perhaps that’s why he can’t be removed so there is someone to blame). Is that your strategy? Have we cracked the code?” she said.

Her statement came amid calls for Duque to step down which have been made since the pandemic started, especially after he mistakenly claimed the country is experiencing the second wave of Covid-19 infection and when he wrongly said the country is flattening the curve or slowing down the rate of Covid-19 infection.

In April, senators signed a resolution asking Duque to resign while questioning his handling of the health crisis.

Several groups have also demanded the same after Duque was tagged in the anomalous purchase of medical supplies and equipment.

Duque ignored these calls, saying he served at the pleasure of the President.

Duterte has repeatedly vouched for Duque’s integrity and took “full responsibility” for the order of supplies.

He also extolled Duque for his competence, saying he would not have been appointed as health chief had he thought otherwise. (PNA)