MANILA – Former Health Secretary Enrique Ona said on Monday that he turned in his resignation as head of the Department of Health (DOH) on account of what he felt was an erosion of President Aquino’s trust in him to head the health agency.
Ona cited accusations which surrounded the DOH purchase of PCV-10 pneumococcal vaccines as a primary reason for the loss of trust. He also noted that statements made by the President with regard to the issue, as well as the NBI probe which was ordered, reflected that confidence in him had been shaken.
“I felt that the relationship between a Cabinet and a president should be, as his alter ego, should be very close. If there is a certain break on that, of course the president had all the right and prerogative to end that and I offered my resignation.” he told reporters from ANC.
The former health department chief pointed out that in his four years as head of the DOH, he managed to set into motion some of the goals he had set towards the reform of the country’s health system; for example, the sin tax law, establishing universal healthcare for all Filipinos, as well as the enactment of the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Act of 2012.
An investigation into the DOH purchase of P833-million worth of pneumococcal conjugate vaccines 10 (PCV 10) was launched by the NBI, after Ona allegedly disregarded the World Health Organization’s recommendation to purchase PCV 13 vaccines, instead. As such, Ona was asked by President Aquino to take leave from his post at the DOH while the investigation was ongoing.
Ona denied that the WHO made such a recommendation, on the basis of cost effectiveness, and pointed out that the PCV 13 is even more expensive than PCV 10, on account of the additional antigens.
He defended his decision to purchase the PCV 10, saying that the cheaper option would enable the DOH to vaccinate a bigger number of poor children in the country.
“It was both a cost issue and effectiveness issue on what was best for the country. [PCV 13] is more expensive. The budget is the constraint and that is reason why, if you read the WHO recommendation if all the children can be vaccinated, if you have the money for all the children then fine maybe PCV-13 is more cost effective. Both are cost effective. Hindi mo ma vaccinate lahat ng bata, only essentially for the poor,” Ona explained.
The purchase was subsequently declared as “aboveboard” by the NBI.
“Of course, I feel very much vindicated on that not just for myself but others associated with that transaction,” Ona said.
Nonetheless, Ona said he made the right decision, tendering his resignation, as matters of such import demand a high level of trust.
“This is why you need full trust and confidence of the President. The mere fact that based on his statement and the NBI investigation, that may not be there anymore. This is why I felt I should give way,” he said.