Ombudsman Samuel Martires preventively suspended 5 Department of Health (DOH) officials over the supposed delay in releasing benefits to health workers during the coronavirus pandemic.
Health Undersecretary Roger Tong-An; Kenneth Ronquillo, Maylene Beltran, Laureano Cruz and Esperanza Carating were preventively suspended for 6 months without pay in an order by Martires signed Tuesday, October 27.
Martires told reporters that the order was specific to the issue of alleged delay in releasing benefits to health workers, but the overall pandemic investigation into the DOH was still ongoing.
Preventive suspensions are imposed by the Ombudsman to forestall the involved officials from either tampering with evidence or influencing witnesses.
This was Martires’ first action since opening the investigation last June. The investigation, the Ombudsman said, would include embattled Health Secretary Francisco Duque III.
The investigation would look into:
- the delayed procurement of personal protective equipment (PPE) and other medical gear necessary for the protection of healthcare workers;
- alleged lapses and irregularities that led to the death of medical workers and the rising number of deaths and infected medical frontliners;
- inaction in the release and processing of benefits and financial assistance of “fallen” and infected medical frontliners;
- the confusing and delayed reporting of COVID-19 related deaths and confirmed cases.
The investigation that Martires opened was a fact-finding probe, meaning it was not a criminal process yet. In a criminal preliminary investigation, respondents would have the chance to answer accusations.
While fact-finding investigations are usually confidential, this investigation was publicly announced and subpoenas were sent to DOH officials.
DOH’s slow response to the subpoenas was part of the delay in the investigation, Martires earlier said.
The Office of the Ombudsman has the mandate to investigate and prosecute officials for corruption but in a recorded message aired Tuesday, President Rodrigo Duterte said he had ordered the Department of Justice to investigate corruption “in the entire government.”