Dead end for Duque

"Quit now. Please."

Health Secretary Francisco Duque must go. If he won’t go, then his boss, President Rodrigo Duterte, should fire him.

Every day, we are dumbfounded that President Duterte continues to allow Duque to be his alter ego during this unprecedented health crisis. Every day, his decision to keep Duque at his post undermines the concern he claims to have for Filipinos and erodes the confidence we should have in our government.

The Health Secretary has committed a series of blunders that would be considered grave in ordinary times. In a period of emergency, such as the one we are having now, Duque’s actions and inaction are nothing short of criminal.

Imagine this – when the first cases of COVID-19 were being reported here, Duque, instead of speaking as a health expert and recommending that flights from China be restricted, said he did not support such an action because it might affect diplomatic ties with our giant neighbor.

His advice to Filipinos was to drink lots of water and keep our throats moist – a good health practice, generally, but not a specific set of rules to ward off the dreaded virus that has sickened millions and killed hundreds of thousands around the world.

He insisted that the Philippines was one of the first to impose preventive measures to contain the spread of the virus and had one of the lowest infection rates in the world, when a quick review of timelines and figures would say this is a lie.

He has not been able to sufficiently explain why the automated nucleic acid extraction machines that his agency had procured cost P4 million per unit when the private sector has been able to obtain a similar machine for P1.75 million. Swabs for COVID-19 testing were bought at $32 dollars apiece when swabs costing half that amount were available.

When analysts from the University of the Philippines pointed out that data from the Department of Health were inconsistent with numbers from local government units, and that they contained “a number of alarming patient-level inconsistencies, if not gross errors” in sex, age and residence, Duque dismissed these findings, saying they represented less than 1 percent of the whole data set and “do not prejudice the overall interpretation of data and decision making.”

Last week, during an online hearing before the Senate, Duque said that asymptomatic patients were not contagious, leaving us aghast,

Finally, he said that the Philippines was “actually” experiencing a second wave of COVID-19 infections already. These words have been refuted by some of his colleagues in the Cabinet. And yet he stays on – presidential spokesman Harry Roque said we should let Duque do his job and that he serves at the pleasure of the President.

The assertions would be hilarious if these did not directly translate to life or death for Filipinos, who, more than two months into the lockdown, have yet to see organized and systematic mass testing to get a more accurate picture of the situation.

In April, 14 senators passed a resolution calling for the ouster of Duque for his failure of leadership, negligence, lack of foresight and inefficiency. The President jumped to Duque’s defense then, saying he still trusted his health secretary. We wonder – why is he still saying this today.

Government officials serve at the pleasure of the people, and there is no way the people are pleased about how Duque has been bungling his all-important job. Is it too much to ask that we have somebody who respects – no, reveres – science-based evidence? We want someone who has empathy for the people, management skills to ensure things get done at once, and independence to give priority to the right things at the right time.

The only way out for Duque is to quit now. This is the kindest, most charitable thing he can do for us.