Time for Duque to go

The long overdue resignation of Health Secretary Francisco Duque may soon take place. He has become such a liability to the Duterte regime that even the president said last week that he would accept Duque’s exit if it were done voluntarily.

Rodrigo Duterte will not axe him, but is leaving it up to Duque to decide when he should leave office gracefully.

Yesterday would have been a good time.

Even the president’s top allies in the Senate, Bong Go and Imee Marcos, have advised Duque to resign. Then there is Panfilo Lacson who has been demanding the Health secretary’s head for the past two years.

Lacson may finally get his wish. Among all the senators, it is the former police chief who has documented the numerous questionable actions of Duque, leading one to believe that the Health secretary was one of the most corrupt — or at least inept — executives to ever handle the key department and its multi-billion peso budget.

The Health secretary himself has said that he would leave when the time was right, but now is not that time. He would still need to leave the department with no loose strings hanging.

This can mean many things. If he were a crook, he would make sure that he does not leave behind a paper trail of his countless crimes and misdemeanors.

Or maybe he wants to assure himself of one last big score before heading off into the sunset, possibly with billions stashed away where it cannot easily be discovered.

Duterte has given several reasons in the past why he never considered firing Duque. The most telling reason was his admitting that Duque’s brother was one of his closest friends. For this reason alone, the Health sec should stay, said the president.

Never mind that the Duque family owns a company that is one of the biggest suppliers of the Health department.

Duterte also said Duque did nothing wrong, so why remove him?

The president refuses to understand that public perception is just as important as reality in many ways.

Presume for a minute that Duque really is an honest, warm-hearted, and loving human being. (Sorry for the sarcasm.) There is still no doubt that he was the most incompetent Health secretary ever. His failure to act with dispatch when the COVID-19 pandemic began to spread is unforgiveable.

Then there is his maltreatment of the country’s public health workers, who were at the forefront of the nearly impossible battle against the dreaded coronavirus. It was not because of anything Duque did, but it was his failure to act quickly that thousands of doctors, nurses, and other healthcare providers in the public sector did not receive the financial assistance that was promised them. In many cases, the funds released fell short of what was committed to them.

They are heroes, each and every one of them. Maybe Duque wanted them to be martyrs as well, working to near exhaustion day in and day out, but not getting the emergency allowances needed to properly feed themselves and their families.

The Commission on Audit (COA) report released last month showed a number of government agencies committing malfeasance on a scale never before seen, and the Health department under Duque was on top of the list. Very literally billions of pesos (even in dollar terms) was going to waste every year.

The COA and Senator Lacson concluded that a mafia-like group was operating under the noses of the Health secretary and his underlings.

Incidentally, the Philippines is the only country in the world where people have to wear not just masks but also face shields when leaving their residences. Guess who had a role in making this a government policy? And guess which department ordered billions worth of face shields from a miniscule and unknown company with obvious links to the decision makers?

The conclusion was that Duque was either party to the wholesale graft and corruption in the DOH, or was so incompetent as to be unaware of billions in taxpayers’ money going to the pockets of his people.

So what is it then? Is Duque only hopelessly incompetent, or is he totally corrupt?

If and when he resigns, he must not be allowed to get away with his acts that have cost countless human lives. He would literally be getting away with murder if he is allowed to enjoy the fruits of his stint in the DOH.

The country has learned its lessons from the past. A good man at the helm of the DOH can make a difference. The late great Health Secretary and later Senator Juan Flavier is one such outstanding leader. He did so much for the health and welfare of the Filipino people that Doctor Flavier should be put on a pedestal, with his statue standing in the DOH’s main office.

As for Duque, he best belongs in the proverbial dustbin of history. But not before his complete wealth is probed and surrendered to the government if it is proven that he amassed them while at the helm of the DOH.

Letting him retire with a golden parachute of bags of dirty money is unacceptable. It would be tantamount to letting him get away with murder as well as plunder. Which happens a lot in the Philippines, but that’s another matter best discussed another day.