Ombudsman investigates Duque, DOH officials over COVID-19 response

Ombudsman investigates Duque, DOH officials over COVID-19 response
President Rodrigo Roa Duterte confers with Health Secretary Francisco Duque III during a meeting with members of the Inter-Agency Task Force on the Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) at the Matina Enclaves in Davao City on June 4, 2020.
Presidential Photo / Robinson Niñal Jr.

MANILA, Philippines — The Office of the Ombudsman will look into liability of Health Secretary Francisco Duque III and other DOH officials over the government's response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The STAR reported that Ombudsman Samuel Martires ordered the probe into possible inefficiency or irregularities in, among other things, getting protective equipment for medical frontliners.

Martires said he ordered the creation of two investigating teams to look into the following issues:

  • Delayed procurement of [Personal] Protective Equipment and other medial gears for healthcare workers
  • Alleged lapses and irregularities that led to death of health workers and rising deaths and infections among medical frontliners
  • Inaction in the release and processing of compensation for healthcare workers who were severely ill with COVID-19 and who died
  • Confusing and delayed reporting of COVID-19 deaths and confirmed cases

Martires said the Ombudsman’s Field Investigation Office started its probe prior to the March 15 lockdown, but its investigators "were given a runaround by some DOH officials and personnel by referring us from one department or office to another."

The Palace has said President Rodrigo Duterte was angry about  the delayed release of the financial compensation to healthcare workers who died due to, and were severely ill with, COVID-19—as held in the Bayanihan law.

Duque initially blamed his staff for the slow release of compensation, but later admitted that he is ultimately responsible for the department's performance.

Martires said the investigating team is authorized to file appropriate criminal and/or administrative case against DOH official or personnel who fails or refuses to comply with requests of the team.

Those who willfully obstruct, or hinder the conduct of the investigation or who willfully mislead or attempt to mislead the office of the Ombudsman may also face charges.

Test kits probe

The creation of the two investigating teams followed the evaluation of reports and recommendation from Assistant Ombudsman Caesar Asuncion, Asst. Ombudsman Joselito Fangon, Asst. Ombudsman Jose Balmeo.

These Ombudsman officials and another team that the office said was created before March 15 looked into DOH’s purchase of test kits 100,000 test kits and news reports on the use of test kits developed by the University of the Philippines.

It is unclear which news reports Martires was referring to but the Food and Drug Administration only approved the UP-developed test kits for commercial use on April 3. — Kristine Joy Patag with The STAR/Elizabeth Marcelo

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