Duterte rejects calls for Duque’s resignation as Health chief

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, April 16) — President Rodrigo Duterte on Thursday rejected calls for Health Secretary Francisco Duque III to resign, deciding to keep him in his post, according to Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea.

“The President has made a decision for Health Secretary Duque to stay put,” Medialdea said in a text message to Malacañang reporters.

Medialdea said Duterte appreciates the senators for giving him the opportunity to weigh his options on Duque’s performance.

The Executive Secretary added that Duque was already informed of the sentiments of the senators and that Duterte expects him to work harder to cast away doubts on his capacity and sincerity.

Prior to Malacañang’s announcement, Duque had already 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.

A resolution signed by at least 14 senators from the 24-member chamber 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.

Senate Health Committee chairman Christopher “Bong” Go, however, said it would be difficult to replace the health czar in the middle of the COVID-19 crisis.

Tulungan na lang natin siya at magbayanihan tayo para mas mabilis nating malampasan ang pagsubok na ito,” Go said, adding that the Health Department should take his colleagues’ call for the resignation of Duque as an “eye-opener” for them to “shape up.”

[Translation: Let's just help him and let's help each other so we can get through this challenge more quickly.]

Duque, speaking during a virtual House hearing on Thursday, said he respects the call of the senators, but admitted that he was hurt.

“I wish the Senate had been more magnanimous,” he said.

Nonetheless, Duque stressed that he serves at the pleasure of the President.

Malacañang earlier said it had no involvement in the call for Duque to step down, and that Duterte still trusts his appointed health chief.

Gaya ng paulit-ulit ko nang 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.]

CNN Philippines’ Triciah Terada and Lara Tan contributed to this report.