Ubial dares Roque to file cases against her

Mara Cepeda
Ubial dares Roque to file cases against her
'He should produce the evidence and not just blurt out innuendos in the media,' says Health Secretary Paulyn Ubial, as Kabayan Representative Harry Roque opposes her appointment

MANILA, Philippines – Health Secretary Paulyn Ubial challenged Kabayan Representative Harry Roque to file cases against her following his opposition to her appointment as Department of Health (DOH) chief.

“My challenge to Congressman Harry Roque in his allegations of corruption and incompetence is to file the appropriate case with the Civil Service [Commission], the Office of the President, the Ombudsman,” said Ubial during her second confirmation hearing before the Commission on Appointments (CA) on Tuesday, October 3.

“He should produce the evidence and not just blurt out innuendos in the media under the cover and protection of parliamentary immunity,” she added.

Roque is among the 3 oppositors to Ubial’s appointment as DOH secretary, along with lawyer Restituto Mendoza and doctor Potenciano Malvar, medical director of the General Miguel M. Malvar Medical Foundation. ACTS-OFW Representative John Bertiz already withdrew his complaint against Ubial.

Roque has slammed Ubial for her “flip-flopping” statements on the Zika virus and the delay in the procurement of the dengue vaccine in favor of the pneumonia vaccine.

The lawmaker also accuses Ubial, as chairperson of the board of the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth), of controlling internal affairs for her own benefit. He also complained about Ubial’s “excessive foreign travels” in her first few months in office. (READ: Sotto grills Ubial over foreign trips, WHO-funded travels)

Ubial once again denied Roque’s allegations, telling the CA that she has answered each of his accusations in the documents she submitted. 

“I ask therefore, ladies and gentlemen of the Commission on Appointments, not to judge me as a leader by what others have to say about me, but what you have observed in the one year or so I have been in office and what I represent in the documents before you,” said Ubial. 

She then cited her accomplishments in the DOH in the past 29 years, including being part of the department’s teams that led the eradication of polio as well as addressed leprosy and rabies.

“Look at that, and not what my oppositors have to say because whatever it is that they say, it’s just a nut in the mountain of accomplishment I have attained in the DOH,” said Ubial.

The CA suspended voting on Ubial’s confirmation until next week. Assistant Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III said there is a “50-50” chance that the CA would confirm the DOH chief.

Nurses, turtle eggs

As for Mendoza, the lawyer claimed Ubial will dismiss 7,000 nurses.

“My opposition is grounded on my advocacies in the environment and labor [sectors], and of which is Secretary Ubial’s plan to dismiss 7,000 nurses, your honor. And making them just contractual from being regular employees. They are overworked already,” he said.

But Ubial said the DOH is actually eyeing to hire 7,000 additional nurses.  

“On the opposition of Atty Mendoza, I categorically deny dismissal of 7,000 nurses. In fact, from 15,000 we are hiring under the national deployment program this year, we will increase it to 22,000, an increase of 7,000 nurses by next year. And we have impressed to the [Department] of Budget and Management to put plantilla items and not job orders,” said Ubial.

During the hearing, Mendoza also cited a supposed Rappler story on the DOH regional director in Tawi-Tawi smuggling eggs of endangered marine turtles from Turtle Islands, a protected wildlife sanctuary. 

The story, however, is an exclusive of the Inquirer. Tawi-Tawi provincial health officer Sangkula Laja shipped out the turtle eggs last year with his team. Laja explained the eggs were a farewell gift to them by the locals, who also fed them the eggs.

According to Ubial, 7 doctors part of that team already came to her office, but she decided against firing them.

“For the information of this body, there are only 20 doctors in the whole of Tawi-Tawi. If I put to jail 7 doctors, what will happen to Tawi-Tawi?” Ubial told the CA.

She said she had spoken to then-environment secretary Gina Lopez to “forgive the 7 doctors, with promise from these doctors that they would never do that [again] and they would educate the people of Tawi-Tawi that this particular activity is prohibited.”

Ubial committing graft?

Malvar, on the other hand, accused Ubial of violating the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act and of infidelity in the custody of public documents.

He alleged that Ubial is pulling strings to lift the cease and desist order issued against Diliman Doctors Hospital Incorporated along Commonwealth Avenue in Quezon City, which is in the same vicinity as the hospital he manages. 

Ubial told the CA that Malvar has “persistently and consistently” tried to block the approval of the necessary permits for Diliman Doctors Hospital. She said Malvar had also filed cases against former public works and highways chief Rogelio Singson and ex-health secretary Janette Garin.  

“And since I think that because of that position, he has written numerous letters asking for documents that he already possesses. And the office was already able to supply [the documents], but he still filed an Ombudsman case against me for infidelity in the possession of documents,” said Ubial.  

She maintained she is not abusing her power as DOH chief.

“And if I were corrupt, I cannot hide that. People will know… If I were corrupt, why did I get a clearance from the Office of the Ombudsman? Why don’t I have cases with the Commission on Audit, in the Civil Service [Commission]?” she said. – Rappler.com

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Mara Cepeda

Mara Cepeda specializes in stories about politics and local governance. She covers the Office of the Vice President, the Senate, and the Philippine opposition. She is a 2021 fellow of the Asia Journalism Fellowship and the Reham al-Farra Memorial Journalism Fellowship of the UN. Got tips? Email her at mara.cepeda@rappler.com or tweet @maracepeda.