President Rodrigo Roa Duterte confers with Health Secretary Francisco Duque III during a meeting with the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases at the Malacañan Palace on March 9, 2020.
Presidential Communications Operations Office, file
Palace on possible Duque exit: If he is still there, Duterte still trusts him
Alexis Romero ( - May 25, 2020 - 6:08pm

MANILA, Philippines— Malacañang was mum Monday on the report that President Rodrigo Duterte is looking for a replacement for Health Secretary Francisco Duque III but noted that all officials can be removed from their posts anytime of the president no longer trusts them.

A report by The STAR published Monday quoted sources as saying that Duterte is planning to replace Duque, who has been accused by some groups of mishandling the coronavirus crisis.

The president, a source claimed, is already "looking around" for somebody to replace the embattled health chief. A Cabinet member has expressed hope that Duterte "would not take long to give Duque the way out," the report said.

Asked to react to the report, presidential spokesman Harry Roque said he does not know anything about the newspaper article.

"I have repeatedly said... we all serve at the pleasure of the president. If the president loses trust in you, anytime, any Cabinet member can be removed," Roque said at a press briefing.

Roque said an official still enjoys the president's trust if he is still in his post.  

"I have answered that. Cabinet members serve at the pleasure of the president. As long as the Cabinet member is not yet removed (from his post), the trust and confidence is still there," he said.  

The president has, in the past, been reluctant to fire officials despite allegations of corruption or incompetence. In some cases, they have been allowed to or told to resign. Some officials, like former military officer Nicanor Faeldon, were allowed to resign or were eventually transferred to a different agency.

Militant group Bagong Alyansang Makabayan has asked the president to appoint a new health chief, saying Duque is no longer capable of doing the job. The group cited Duque's claim that the Philippines is already in the second wave of coronavirus, a view not shared by Palace officials and some health experts and that he later walked back.

The health department is also grappling with allegations that it bought allegedly overpriced medical supplies including personal protective equipment for coronavirus frontliners.

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