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As Ombudsman probes DOH, Duterte defends Duque anew

President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday night, June 22, once again defended embattled Health Secretary Francisco Duque III, this time against allegations of anomalies in the Department of Health's (DOH) coronavirus response.

Duterte came to Duque's defense in an address aired late Monday night, days after the Office of the Ombudsman announced it would start an investigation into the DOH and Duque's handling of the coronavirus pandemic. 

"With due respect to the Omudsman, the honorable Samuel Martires, if you ask me, if I was the one being investigated, I believe in the honest and integrity of my people. My people are clean and I still believe in them," Duterte said in a mix of English and Filipino. 

"Itaya ko 'yung reputasyon as President, walang kalokohan (I'll bet my reputation as President, there are no anomalies)," he added. 

Before this, Duterte had defended and cleared Duque on two other separate occasions, first when he backed the health secretary amid calls for his resignation, and second when he blamed Duque's subordinates instead for the health department's lapses.

What investigation? On June 17,  Martires said he created a joint investigating team to look into supposed irregularities in the health department, including the following:  

  • 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 

During Duterte's taped address, Duque addressed some of these claims, saying all 32 healthcare workers who died due to the coronavirus and the 19 others who were severely infected by the disease had already been compensated. 

The payment came after senators earlier pointed out healthcare workers had yet to receive the financial compensation laid out under the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act more than 3 months after it took effect. At the time, the health department said what caused the delay was the late signing of a joint administrative order on the health workers' compensation, which was signed on June 2. 

On the procurement of PPE, Duque said that as early as February, the Philippines already experienced problems in purchasing the badly needed equipment as it had to compete with other countries who demanded the same items. Health workers had sounded the alarm on dangerously low supplies of PPE as more medical frontliners were getting sick with the coronavirus. 

Duque did not address other issues being probed by the Ombudsman, although the DOH had already acknowledged lapses in its data collection.  

President's word: During his address, Duterte also asserted Duque would not steal from government as he was already "rich."

"I place my reputation sa kang Secretary Duque nga wala'y kawat nga nahimo na. Dili na niya kaya. Dili na kaya kay datu ra kaayo daan si Duque. Naa ni hospital, naa ni eskwelahan, naa ni tanan. Hastang tanang gwapang asawa, naa niya. Mao man na'y importante," Duterte said. 

(I place my reputation in Secretary Duque that nothing is being stolen. He's not capable of it. Duque wouldn't do it because he's already rich. He has a hospital, a school, he has it all. Even beautiful wives, he has them. That's what's important.)

Like Duterte, National Task Force COVID-19 chief implementer Carlito Galvez Jr vouched for Duque, saying he "had nothing to do" with the procurement of items being questioned by the Ombudsman.

Meanwhile, Duque vowed to cooperate with the probe, saying the DOH will submit documents to the Ombudsman. – 

Sofia Tomacruz

Sofia Tomacruz covers foreign affairs, the overseas Filipino workers, and elections. She also writes stories on the treatment of women and children. Follow her on Twitter @sofiatomacruz. Email her at