“Secretary Francisco Duque III serves at the pleasure of the appointing authority, President Duterte, in this challenging time,” presidential spokesman Harry Roque Jr. said yesterday.
STAR/Michael Varcas, file
Palace: Duque still enjoys Duterte’s trust
Christina Mendez (The Philippine Star) - May 23, 2020 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — Health Secretary Francisco Duque III still enjoys the trust and confidence of President Duterte and will keep his post amid the coronavirus pandemic.

“Secretary Francisco Duque III serves at the pleasure of the appointing authority, President Duterte, in this challenging time,” presidential spokesman Harry Roque Jr. said yesterday.

“Secretary Duque will answer allegations in the proper forum, but for now let us allow him to do his job during this global health emergency,” Roque said.

The Palace statement came after Roque publicly countered Duque’s statement that the Philippines is now in the second wave of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) contagion. Duque said the first three patients from Wuhan, China in late January constituted the “first wave.”

As Department of Health (DOH) chief, Duque also heads the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF).

Also yesterday, the DOH reiterated that there is no proof of asymptomatic transmission of COVID-19, citing the position of the World Health Organization (WHO).

Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said at a press conference that until now, there is no evidence that asymptomatic individuals – or those who do not manifest symptoms of COVID-19 – are infectious.

“Right now according to WHO, asymptomatic transmission has not made a dent in our response. That means that if there are such cases, the percentage is small and do not impact on our overall cases,” she noted.

This was in defense of Duque who had told the Senate committee of the whole that asymptomatic COVID-19 carriers were not necessarily infectious.

Vergeire also reported that there were 163 new cases of confirmed COVID-19, bringing to 13,597 the total number of cases documented. 

Of the 13,597 cases, 97 were foreign nationals.  Chinese had the biggest number at 32, followed by 13 Americans, five Japanese and four each from Taiwan and India. Other nationalities account for 39 cases.

She added there were 11 new fatalities, raising the total death toll to 857. Data show 92 patients have recovered from the virus, bringing total recoveries to 3,092.

According to Vergeire, there were 2,336 health workers who got infected, of whom 1,086 have recovered.

She said the number of frontliners who succumbed to the virus remains at 31.

“We are glad to inform you that there is no new healthcare worker who died from COVID-19. It has been 11 days since we last recorded deaths among healthcare workers,” she added.

The decline in number, she said, was mainly due to validation of information that some of the healthcare workers had already retired and “were no longer in the line of duty” when they died.

Vergeire also said that DOH’s Health Facilities Oversight Board has asked a number of hospitals to explain why they had turned away patients.  

“They were given ‘show cause orders.’ Refusing a patient is a violation of Republic Act 8344 or the Anti-Hospital Deposit law as amended by Republic Act 10932 which imposes penalty on violators,” she added.  

For senators, Duque’s blunder was enough justification for calls for his resignation.

“The pressure should not be on the President but instead on Secretary Duque. In other countries, if an official makes a big blunder, they immediately resign out of delicadeza,” Senate President Vicente Sotto III said.

Sen. Sonny Angara said he does not think Duque’s clarifications “will make the 14 senators who passed a resolution some weeks ago asking for his resignation change their mind.”

“Sad to say, his statements have hurt the department and the government’s efforts more than helping, since his remarks have caused confusion amongst the public,” Angara said.

“It is very alarming, Mr. (Senate) President, if the secretary of health himself is saying the wrong information about COVID-19,” Sen. Nancy Binay manifested at the Senate committee of the whole hearing.

Binay said it was not true – as Duque said – that the WHO had stated that asymptomatic carriers were not infectious.

She cited a WHO report dated April 2 that “there are few reports of laboratory confirmed cases who are truly asymptomatic, and to date, there has been no documented asymptomatic transmission. This does not exclude the possibility that it may occur.”

Dr. Anthony Leachon, an adviser to the IATF, said Duque might have been quoting an old WHO report, adding that the authorities must not rely on just one institution for expert opinion.

The militant Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) also called for the sacking of Duque.

“Duque’s ‘second wave’ comments have been roundly repudiated by Palace officials, senators and members of the medical community. It is another testament to Duque’s inability to lead the country’s pandemic response as its top health official,” Bayan secretary-general Renato Reyes said in a statement. Sheila Crisostomo, Paolo Romero

FRANCISCO DUQUE III
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