"Ultimately, it’s not Mr. Duterte who will suffer the consequences of his devotion."
Again, we are moved to ask: What does the Health Secretary have on the President?
Addressing the nation over the weekend, President Rodrigo Duterte professed his unconditional support for Health Secretary Francisco Duque III, who is again under fire for his agency’s failure to address the findings of irregularity — amounting to at least P67 billion — by the Commission on Audit.
“I will stand for Duque even if it [brings] me down,” said Mr. Duterte.
Earlier in the week, the President, instead of making good on his commitment to act decisively on any whiff of corruption in his administration, tore into the COA and faulted it for making its audit reports public. He said these reports tainted the reputations of institutions and individuals. Mr. Duterte, who is a lawyer and should really know better, challenged the mandate of the commission and exhorted his Cabinet to ignore the COA reports.
The reports are published on the website of the commission, just as they have been for years.
The 2020 annual audit report for the Department of Health pointed to at least P67 billion of taxpayers’ money that could, at best, have been used in a judicious and timely manner to help the people, health workers and the health system during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic.
This, of course, is not the first time Duque’s leadership of the Health Department and the government’s anti-COVID measures are being criticized. Over the past year and a half, there have been repeated calls for his resignation not only from social media users or administration critics, but also from legislators.
Through all this, Mr. Duterte has loyally stood by Duque, whose immediate response to the latest round of questions has been to unsuccessfully appeal to public sentiment and tearfully accuse COA of destroying him and his agency.
Meanwhile, all those defending him take advantage of the public’s lack of familiarity with the audit process. Published audit reports are never preliminary; they include the answers given by the audited agency to questions raised by the auditors, and even an exit conference with both auditor and auditee present. Nothing satisfactory was produced by the DOH during this stage.
Mr. Duterte now asks us to give him a reason why he should fire his favorite official. Alas, no reason will be compelling enough for somebody who has already made up his mind. Ultimately, it will not be to the President’s own detriment to keep somebody like Duque by his side. But sadly, we are the ones bearing the brunt of his undying devotion.