Department of Health

LIST: DOH Secretary Ted Herbosa’s controversial statements in the past

Jezreel Ines

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LIST: DOH Secretary Ted Herbosa’s controversial statements in the past
The past comments of Ted Herbosa, described as insensitive, offensive, and potentially harmful, are haunting him just as he assumes his new role as DOH secretary

MANILA, Philippines — After almost a year into his term, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. finally announced on Monday, June 5, the appointment of Dr. Teodoro “Ted” Herbosa as the new secretary of the Department of Health (DOH).

Herbosa’s appointment is important as he will assume the key position of spearheading the nation’s efforts to address the continuing health issues left behind by the COVID-19 pandemic.

However, choosing Herbosa to head the country’s health department has also sparked a backlash mainly because of his contentious remarks in the past.

His statements about healthcare workers, the community pantry, and red tagging, have been criticized for being insensitive, offensive, and even downright dangerous.

That candidness has now haunted Herbosa.

Here are some of Herbosa’s past statements that have again touched off a good deal of flak at him.

Facebook post rape joke

In 2020, during his term as the executive vice president of the University of the Philippines System, Herbosa sparked controversy by sharing a Facebook post containing a screenshot of an anecdote that involved a father teaching his son about the distinctions between rape, romance, and marriage.

This post ignited a strong backlash, leading the Office of Faculty Regent, Student Regent, and Staff Regent to denounce Herbosa’s rape joke and call for the implementation of “gender sensitivity trainings and workshops on responsible and thoughtful use of social media accounts within the UP administration.”

Herbosa later issued an apology and said he would undergo a gender sensitivity seminar to “make amends” for his mistake.

Reina Mae Nasino ‘cadaver politics’

In 2020, Herbosa stirred controversy when he made remarks about the death of baby River, a three-month-old baby who was separated from her activist mother Reina Mae Nasino at birth. 

When the child of Nasino died and various groups protested against the perceived mistreatment by the government, Herbosa referred to it as “cadaver politics.”

In a Facebook comment, Herbosa defended the government’s care of the baby, emphasizing that the child had received support from government funds and doctors, without assistance from her father, while her mother was detained in Manila. Herbosa expressed his frustration, stating, “The use of an innocent child for a failed ideology angers me!”

Throughout her pregnancy, Reina Mae carried baby River while incarcerated at Manila City Jail on non-bailable charges commonly levied against activists, such as illegal possession of firearms and explosives.

Subsequently, Nasino and two other activists were temporarily released from detention after a Manila court granted them bail.

‘Death by community pantry’

In April 2021, Herbosa whipped up indignation from online users because of a tweet referring to “death by community pantry.” This comment was his response to the unfortunate passing of an elderly man who had queued at a community pantry organized by actress Angel Locsin in Quezon City.

In response to the challenging economic situation caused by the pandemic, community pantries were established by volunteers to address the difficulties faced by the most impoverished in accessing affordable food supplies.

Locsin previously said that her community pantry was a tribute to the Filipinos who have actively participated in the nationwide movement by offering free food to those in need during the pandemic.

Herbosa faced criticism from netizens who deemed his remark as insensitive and devoid of empathy towards the underlying circumstances that prompted the creation of community pantries.

Following his statement, Herbosa publicly apologized and subsequently resigned from his position at UP.

‘Except yung mga nag protest ha!’

In 2021, Herbosa posted a photo greeting on National Heroes Day, acknowledging the contributions of healthcare workers.

However, his caption, “Except sa mga nag-protest ha!” (Except for those who protested) attracted widespread criticism. This statement came under fire as healthcare workers were already facing challenges while serving at the front lines of the fight against the pandemic.

The remark was seen as dismissive of the immense hardships and sacrifices made by healthcare workers, who were already facing unprecedented pressures while performing their duties.

On August 30, 2021 in time for National Heroes Day, various health workers from different hospitals in Metro Manila staged protests to demand the release of benefits owed to them as frontliners.

Debate with a US aerosol expert

During his tenure as Special Adviser to the National Task Force Against COVID-19, Herbosa faced criticism for his exchange with American chemistry professor Jose Luis Jimenez.

Jimenez, an expert in aerosols from the University of Colorado Boulder, said in an interview with ANC that face shields were outdated and emphasized the importance of promoting high-quality face masks.

Herbosa questioned the validity of Jimenez’s remarks and challenged his expertise on the issue, stating that he lacked knowledge in disease epidemiology and pathogenesis.

Jimenez responded by mentioning that he had led a peer-reviewed paper demonstrating the role of shared-room airborne transmission in COVID-19 superspreading.

“Airborne or aerosolized transmissions? The path (of) on bench science to clinical practice is a long route. You need to be cautious with dogmatic statements because lives are lost when the science and interpretation of the evidence is wrong,” Herbosa said.

Jimenez then explained that airborne and aerosol transmission “are the same thing,” adding that the World Health Organization “uses both terms interchangeably for both short-range and long-range.”

‘Hindi pa yan collapse’

Another contentious statement by Herbosa was when he claimed that hospitals could still accommodate patients despite the surge in COVID-19 cases in 2021. 

Herbosa clarified that healthcare facilities were experiencing a phase known as “surge capacity,” which resulted in overcrowding and strain on their capacity to accommodate patients.

However, Herbosa’s statement ignited a maelstrom as the stark reality in hospitals sharply contradicted his claims.

During that time, the country was grappling with a staggering surge in COVID-19 cases, and reports from overwhelmed healthcare facilities depicted a distressing scene of overcrowding and strained resources. 

The glaring disparity between Herbosa’s assertion and the grim situation on the ground intensified the firestorm of protest against him.

DOH debunking Herbosa’s ‘fake news’ post

Even the DOH, which leads the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases and where Herbosa would assume a prominent role, refuted the misinformation presented in a graphic shared by Herbosa.

In 2020, Herbosa shared a graphic on his personal Facebook page asserting that the pathogen manifested in three stages, depending on the body parts where symptoms were experienced.

Herbosa further asserted that if COVID-19 symptoms were confined to the nose, they could be resolved within half a day through steam inhalation or tuob

Additionally, he claimed that symptoms localized in the throat would require a one-day recovery time through practices such as gargling warm water or, in severe cases, the use of antibiotics. —

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Jezreel Ines

Jezreel is a researcher-writer at Rappler mainly focused on governance and social issues.