‘Get your priorities straight,’ lawmakers tell Duque amid coronavirus threat

Mara Cepeda
‘Get your priorities straight,’ lawmakers tell Duque amid coronavirus threat


House members are upset that the DOH chief skipped a House hearing on Metro Manila's response to the novel coronavirus to inspect a quarantine center in Nueva Ecija, as directed by the President

MANILA, Philippines – Visibly upset legislators told Health Secretary Francisco Duque III he needs to get his priorities in order after he failed to attend a House hearing on Metro Manila’s response to the 2019 novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV). 

On Wednesday, February 5, Muntinlupa Representative Ruffy Biazon called out Duque for begging off from attending the House committee on Metro Manila development’s hearing to inspect a quarantine facility in Fort Magsaysay in Nueva Ecija.

Duque went to Fort Magsaysay on orders of President Rodrigo Duterte. The facility in the military reserve will serve as a quarantine area for Filipinos set to be repatriated from China on Saturday, February 8.

“Pakiparating po kay Secretary Duque: Ayusin ho niya ang kanyang priorities (Please tell this to Secretary Duque: He should get his priorities straight),” Biazon told heads of various DOH bureaus present during the hearing. 

“So I guess this shows the type of priorities that the Secretary has. As the overall in-charge of handling this crisis, I believe he should have been there. Hindi ‘yong pag-iinspekto na lang ng mga kuwarto (He should not just spend time inspecting rooms). So to the DOH, we appreciate your presence but I am very sure there will be questions here that you wouldn’t be able to answer,” he added.

A few minutes later, Biazon recalled the Senate hearing on Tuesday, February 4, which revealed an apparent lack of communication between the DOH, and the Civil Aeronautics Board and the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines on contact tracing for possible 2019-nCoV cases.  

Duque had even threatened to fire “incompetent” officials from the DOH’s Epidemiology Bureau. But for Biazon, no one is to be blamed but the health secretary himself. 

The Muntinlupa congressman cited Republic Act No. 11332 or the “Mandatory Reporting of Notifiable Diseases and Health Events of Public Health Concerns Act,” which gives the DOH chief the power to “declare epidemics of national and/or international concerns except when the same threatens national security.” 

“Itong krisis na hinaharap natin sa kalusugan ng mga Pilipino, siya ang incident commander. Sa kanya manggagaling ang kautusan. Lahat ng ahensiya – DFA (Department of Foreign Affairs) and others – mapapasailalim sa kanya. Kaya ito ho tayo nababahala kung ano ba ang priorities dito sa pag-attend sa problemang ito,” Biazon said. 

(He is the incident commander of this crisis involving the health of Filipinos. The orders should be coming from him. All agencies – including the DFA and others – would fall under him. That’s why we are concerned over his priorities in attending to this problem.)

Manila 1st District Representative Manuel Lopez, House committee on Metro Manila development chair, agreed with Biazon. 

“We would not like to lambast the Secretary…pero ang nais lang po namin ipaalam sa kanya [ay] baka nakakalimutan niya ang paalala namin kung anu-ano po ang kapangyarihan na binigay po sa kanya ng Republika ng Pilipinas (But we want to remind him that he may be forgetting the powers given to him under the Republic of the Philippines),” Lopez said.

Duque had already appeared before the House during the question hour in the plenary session on January 29. But only a few lawmakers lined up to interpellate the DOH chief, excluding Biazon and Lopez. 

As of 9 pm on Tuesday, the Philippines recorded one death due to the 2019-nCoV, the first to die from the disease outside of China. 

This 44-year-old Chinese man is one of two confirmed coronavirus cases in the country along with a 38-year-old woman, with whom he  traveled from Wuhan via Hong Kong, to the Philippines.

The DOH is currently monitoring 105 patients for possible 2019-nCoV. Of this number, 91 were still in hospitals while 12 had been discharged.

Globally, the coronavirus has already infected 23,939 people and killed 492, as of Wednesday morning.

Duterte already prohibited travelers from China, Hong Kong, and Macau from entering the Philippines. – 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.