Duque ready to face Commission on Appointments

MANILA, Philippines – Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said he is prepared to face the powerful Commission on Appointments (CA), which rejected his predecessor Paulyn Ubial last month.

"We're ready to face the CA. We'll answer it there in the best possible way. And I hope it will be to the satisfaction of the CA," said Duque in a Rappler Talk interview on Tuesday, November 7.

The CA has the power to confirm or reject a Cabinet appointee of the President. The body already rejected 5 appointees of President Rodrigo Duterte, with Ubial as the latest rejected official.

Duque is only in his second week serving as Duterte's new health chief, but a possible challenge to his appointment is already looming in the form of Senator Vicente Sotto III, CA assistant majority leader.

Last week, the DOH secretary told reporters he sees no problem with the "compassionate use" of medical marijuana, saying research has shown cannabis oil can be proven effective against seizures. 

At the time, Duque said the DOH was coordinating with lawmakers to fine-tune the provisions of the proposed bill seeking to legalize and regulate the medical use of cannabis, which the House health panel already approved. 

This prompted Sotto to remind the DOH secretary that compassionate use of medical marijuana for research purposes only is already covered by the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002. It was also Sotto who had grilled Ubial over her foreign trips.

Duque then held his first official press conference as part of the Duterte Cabinet on Tuesday, where he clarified that he only supports the use of medical marijuana for research purposes and only the law's provisions are followed. 

For him, the risks of using medical cannabis outweigh its deemed benefits, including "symptomatic treatment of anorexia in HIV/AIDS, nausea and panicking in cancer chemotherapy, and alleviation of pain for certain types of cancer and also for certain types of seizures."

"It can cause impairment of your psychomotor and cognitive functions, especially through chronic use. Obviously it can lead to drug addiction or dependence. Then it can also cause alterations in depth perception – what's near you will look as if it's farther away, something deep will look shallow. So when you drive, for example, it can cause a fatal, if not serious motor vehicle accident," said Duque.

He added that smoking marijuana will also affect the user's lungs. 

Duque is hoping the CA will not just focus on medical marijuana during his confirmation hearings, a hot topic surrounding his appointment to the DOH.

"Well, let's put it this way. The issue on medical marijuana is not the entire health sector issue. There are many equally important issues," he said. 

But Duque said he respects the comments of Sotto and vowed to coordinate with lawmakers so that the proposed medical marijuana bill will not be a redundant measure. 

Unlike Sotto, however, Senate health panel chairperson Joseph Victor Ejercito is confident Duque will get the approval of the CA because of his track record.

The CA has yet to schedule Duque's first confirmation hearing. – Rappler.com

Mara Cepeda

Mara Cepeda writes about politics and women’s rights for Rappler. She covers the House of Representatives and the Office of the Vice President. Got tips? Send her an email at mara.cepeda@rappler.com or shoot her a tweet @maracepeda.

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