Dr. Leachon told to resign from COVID-19 task force after DOH rant

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, June 17) — Dr. Tony Leachon announced on Wednesday he is no longer a Special Adviser to the National Task Force on COVID-19,​ saying he was forced to vacate the post after two Cabinet officials were displeased when he publicly revealed gaps in the government's response measures.

He served as the special adviser of National Task Force Against COVID-19 Chief Implementer Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr. The announcement came just three days since he criticized the Department of Health, saying it has "lost focus" on its priorities in containing COVID-19 infections.

"Time and again, I was asked not to speak about my independent views, but I think it would be helpful to the country," Leachon told CNN Philippines' Newsroom Ngayon with a somber voice. "I think I was asked to resign, 'yun ang real (score)."

RELATED: Task force health expert laments delayed COVID-19 data: DOH has 'lost focus'

On Saturday, the public health expert tweeted that the DOH has been running amiss in terms of risk communication, data management, and execution of all plans in battling the local coronavirus outbreak. He has long been calling on authorities to release real-time, granular data on infections, which he said will allow local officials to quickly respond and curb possible infections. He also lamented what he called the department's unreliable and delayed reporting of confirmed COVID-19 cases, ​which is supposed to shape state policies.

RELATED: Early Luzon lockdown would have been better, says national task force adviser

His comments came ahead of President Rodrigo Duterte's decision on the quarantine classifications for various cities and provinces in the country, which was announced late Monday.

"It was an episodic, emotional outburst like a private citizen, not in any way to criticize in a negative way but I feel it's a constructive comment so that the health agency will shape up... Masakit sa akin kasi [it pains me because] I know I can add value to the crusade, but I don't want also to be a burden to Sec. Galvez," Leachon explained, saying he has grown fond of the former military chief's leadership in the fight against COVID-19.

"My manner of communicating to the public – truthful, transparent, open and straightforward – might not be aligned with the communication strategy of the Palace, doon po siguro kami hindi nagkaintindihan [maybe that's where we had a falling out]," he added.

Pressed further, Leachon said Health Secretary Francisco Duque III and Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque were displeased with his public comments, which led Galvez to talk to him about leaving the task force: "Hindi nila nagustuhan 'yung manner that I communicate to the public as to the many lapses of the Department of Health."In a statement, Galvez confirmed they let go of Leachon because of his preemptive releases of some information before the official announcement.

In a statement, Galvez confirmed they let go of Leachon because of his preemptive releases of some information before the official announcement.

Galvez said Leachon’s remarks jeopardized the communication efforts of the IATF and NTF and caused unwarranted misunderstanding between the two.

“He has been cautioned but remained deaf to collegial advise. Constructive criticism among colleagues is most welcome to assure improvement but this should have been done internally to maintain unity of effort,” said Galvez.

Meanwhile, he thanked Galvez, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, Interior Secretary Eduardo Año, Senator Bong Go, and the President for his stint with the NTF.

Galvez also thanked Leachon in his short stint with the NTF.

“I maintain my respects for Dr. Anthony Leachon and thank him for his services rendered to the National Task Force on COVID-19 albeit very short. However, we have to let go of Dr. Leachon because the COVID-19 Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases and NTF are collegial bodies that have to work in synch with each other,” said Galvez.

Leachon clarified that he is not backing calls for Duque to quit his post as Health chief, saying that he literally recommends the official to take some rest so he can reassess current interventions: "You need to revisit your goals and plans if things are not working right now at maraming complaints against the department... You need to step back a little bit and then re-analyze."

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

It was also announced Wednesday afternoon that the Ombudsman is probing Duque and the DOH for alleged lapses in handling the pandemic. Leachon said he had nothing to do with this investigation, but said it may be "serendipitous" and supportive of his observations.