Our COVID misery, not Duque’s incompetence
OFF TANGENT - Aven Piramide (The Freeman) - September 20, 2020 - 12:00am

The way the 1987 Constitution characterizes the executive power as being vested in the President of the Philippines exactly tells us the incredible fate of Sec. Francisco Duque III of the Department of Health. Last week, in a nationally-televised meeting between President Rodrigo Duterte and some members of his Cabinet (and the ubiquitous Sen. Christopher “Bong” Go), Duterte asked Justice Secretary Menardo Guevara, for an update of the investigation on the perceived financial disaster of the PhilHealth. The report of the justice secretary was brief. As soon as Guevara was done reporting, the president took away my breath. Duterte said in unmistakable clarity that Duque had his full trust and confidence. The president delivered that message to his subordinates who have all demonstrated to possess canine devotion to him.

What, to me, was the implication of the president’s announcement that Duque continued to enjoy his trust? That presidential invocation of a constitutional authority was the clear consequence of what Duterte wanted. He, being invested with executive power, was, in effect, ordering Guevara, his subordinate, to pronounce a finding in his investigation that Duque was innocent. The president preempted the query in blitzkrieg fashion. Duque’s innocence was to be declared even before the facts could be gathered. Duterte cleared his health secretary. Duque could not be held for any wrongdoing because the president said so. If somebody had to be held accountable for the perceived loss of some P200 billion in people’s money, other persons’ heads have to roll. Not Duque’s.

It was thus understandable that Secretary Guevara subsequently cleared Secretary Duque of any liability for the suspected plunder. Remember that he was under the specific presidential instruction to do so. That finding of Duque’s purported innocence has immense ramifications. For one, the suspected corruption in the PhilHealth is now put in doubt. If the man sitting at the top of the agency’s organizational structure (and he happens to be Duque) is pronounced to be so honest that he had no participation in any supposed hanky-panky, so must be the top officers who necessarily had to act upon the directive of the head. For another, if that were so, we can expect an announcement to the effect that PhilHealth did not lose a single centavo. End of the story.

That Duque is the supposed head of the PhilHealth is statutory. He is there because Duque is our Secretary of Health and it was believed that health insurance fell within the province of the Department of Health. The president’s trust is supposedly on Duque’s competence, among other things. But, if the president takes a second look at our present main concern, he must realize that Duque is a failure. The presidential trust is misplaced. Let us accept the fact that the Philippines has miserably failed to contain the spread of the coronavirus. We have the highest COVID-19 infection among all Southeast Asian countries! If the fight against this virus is on the shoulders of our health department headed by Duque, our continued increase of local transmission must be the result of the incompetence of Duque. But because President Duterte has his trust in Sec. Duque, let us blame the coronavirus (and not Duque) for infecting our people. Indeed, misery loves company.

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