Duque willing to face Senate probe anew

© STAR/Edd Gumban, file Duque willing to face Senate probe anew

MANILA, Philippines — Health Secretary Francisco Duque III expressed willingness yesterday to again face the Senate Blue Ribbon committee “to ferret out the truth,” despite a directive from President Duterte barring his appointees from participating in the inquiry into the corruption scandal involving the procurement of P42 billion worth of COVID-19 supplies.

Duque issued the statement upon questioning from Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon during deliberations on the proposed P242-billion budget of the Department of Health (DOH) for 2022.

Drilon asked if Duque agreed with the call of over 300 medical doctors, including five former health chiefs, on the need for the committee to continue its probe into alleged procurement anomalies involving Pharmally Pharmaceuticals.

The “collective expression of indignation and call for action” by the medical practitioners also slammed Duterte’s move last week to block the Senate investigation.

The committee, chaired by Sen. Richard Gordon, has postponed the hearing set on Tuesday to a later date. No reason was given.

Duque said he agreed “in principle” with the call of the physicians but stressed that prior to the issuance of the memo he, as well as his key subordinates, were in attendance “100 percent” at the hearings in the Senate as well as in the House of Representatives.

“I have a very simple question. Do you agree with the call of all your fellow physicians, supporting the Blue Ribbon investigation?” Drilon asked.

“Yes… To ferret out the truth, yes, that is my position,” Duque replied.

He, however, said he and other DOH officials “have to attend and focus, as well, on the demands of our state of public health emergency,” including the vaccinations and monitoring local government units in their pandemic response.

Drilon stressed there was no debate on the need to focus on the pandemic response as the chamber also wants reasonable set-up in conducting the inquiry, including the number officials attending.

He pointed out it was upon Duque’s initiative to require all his undersecretaries and directors to attend the hearings even if the committee does not require all of them to be in attendance. – Sheila Crisostomo

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