At least 14 senators want Health Secretary Duque to resign over COVID-19 crisis response

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, April 16) — Majority of senators on Thursday called for the immediate resignation of Health Secretary Francisco Duque III for what they said was his inefficient response to the COVID-19 crisis.

A resolution signed by at least 14 senators sought Duque's resignation for his "failure of leadership, negligence, lack of foresight, and inefficiency" in the measures and actions carried out by the department he heads.

Senate President Vicente "Tito" Sotto III, Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel "Migz" Zubiri, Senators Juan Edgardo "Sonny" Angara, Nancy Binay, Grace Poe, Emmanuel "Manny" Pacquiao, Sherwin Gatchalian, Francis Tolentino, Joel Villanueva, Ronald "Bato" dela Rosa, Imee Marcos, Lito Lapid, Ramon "Bong" Revilla Jr., and Panfilo "Ping" Lacson signed the resolution released on Thursday.

Sotto said two more lawmakers are backing the call, but have yet to sign the resolution. Senator Francis "Kiko" Pangilinan said opposition solons are also supporting the resolution.

The senators said Duque's "poor planning, delayed response, lack of transparency, and misguided and flip-flopping policies and measures" in addressing the COVID-19 pandemic is endangering the lives of healthcare workers and all Filipinos.

There was no immediate reaction from Duque but CNN Philippines is trying to get his comment.

Angara, who recently recovered from COVID-19, slammed Duque for the delayed start of mass testing, flawed process of contract tracing, and shortage of protective gear for frontliners. He said this prompted majority of the senators to speak up.

"Whether he is removed or not, status quo cannot continue if we want to defeat the virus. Kelangan mas bibo ang liderato dito laban sa virus. [We need leaders to be more proactive to win against this virus.]," he said in a statement. "We were late for testing. Contact tracing is almost non-existent. Hospitals are short of protective gear. We need to be better. Buhay ng mga Pilipino ang nakasalalay dito [The lives of Filipinos are on the line]." 

The country only started with mass testing this week, with mostly local governments taking the lead in checking suspected and probable cases in their communities. Meanwhile, at least 12 medical workers have died after being in the frontlines of the COVID-19 battle. The Private Hospitals Association of the Philippines Inc. said this is largely due to the lack of protective gear provided to healthcare workers.

Pangilinan criticized Duque's previous reluctance to recommend banning the entry of travelers coming from China — the epicenter of the deadly virus.

"Inuna pa ang interes ng China kaysa sa kaligtasan ng mga Pilipino," he said in a statement.

[Translation: He prioritized the interest of China over the welfare of Filipinos.]

On January 29, Duque said China might question why the Philippines is imposing a ban on its citizens but not ordering the same restriction on other countries with confirmed cases. The next day, the Philippines confirmed its first coronavirus case — a 38-year-old Chinese national.

Duque staying on?

Amid calls for his resignation, Duque said in a statement that he “will continue to be in the trenches with our health care workers and frontliners.”

“I will continue to serve the country to the best of my abilities,” he said.

Malacañang said it had no involvement in the call for Duque to resign, and that President Rodrigo Duterte still trusts his appointed health chief.

“Gaya ng paulit-ulit ko ng nasasabi sa mga nakalipas na panahon, every Cabinet member serves at the pleasure of the President. And habang hindi sila tinatanggal, the president continues to have full trust and confidence in them,” Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said.

[Translation: Like what I always used to say, every Cabinet member serves at the pleasure of the president. While they remain in service, the President continues to have full trust and confidence in them.]

Lacson said Duterte’s decision is not needed as the resolution is a “demand” for Duque to quit.

“The resolution does not involve the President. It is virtually an appeal — a demand, if you will — to Sec. Duque to resign. It is his call,” he said.

Duque, in February, faced senators in a hearing on the Philippine government's preparedness against COVID-19. The Philippines only had two confirmed cases then.

The Philippines now has 5,453 confirmed cases, 349 deaths, and 353 recoveries.

CNN Philippines correspondents Joyce Ilas and Triciah Terada contributed to this report.