MANILA — The Commission on Appointments (CA) on Wednesday deferred the appointment of Franciso Duque III as Health Secretary to “give more time to questioning.”
Senator Gringo Honasan, chair of the CA committee on Health, told reporters that the commission needed more time to assess the health chief’s plans in the department.
“The fact na sinuspend means we want to think of his responses to our questions. I’m not prepared to say okay na, satisfied ang commission (The fact that the hearing was suspended means we want to think of his response to our questions. I’m not prepared to say it’s okay, the commission is satisfied),” Honasan told reporters after Duque’s confirmation hearing.
Honasan said it was not really because of “oppositors” or the anti-dengue vaccine Dengvaxia issue.
However, he said the committee “definitely wanted to know” more about the agency’s efforts to address the Dengvaxia issue, data and information management, and accreditation of health experts.
“There are still issues that need to be processed and studied – nothing to do so much with the oppositors. DOH and the Secretary (Duque) have tremendous manpower and other resources at their discretion and disposal. Mabigat na responsibilidad yan kaya ang thinking ng commission, dahan-dahan, deliberate. Nothing to do also with the Dengvaxia issue,” he added.
Honasan said he wanted to know how Duque would “proactively” address these issues.
“Mabuti nga at may time si Secretary Duque (This is good so Secretary Duque will have time) to process all this so he can respond accordingly.
During his confirmation hearing, Duque denied the existence of any mafia in the agency before the committee, saying there is “no evidence nor documents that would point to the existence of mafia in the DOH.”
Other health officials including Health Undersecretary Carolino Taino and Director Lauriano Cruz also slammed claims that there was an existing mafia in the agency.
It may be recalled that former health consultant to the DOH, Dr. Francis Cruz, claimed there was a mafia inside the DOH who pushed for the PHP3.5 billion anti-dengue vaccine Dengvaxia to gain profit.
Cruz said the mafia was composed of several former and current officials.
He also said that approximately PHP550 million from the PHP3.5 billion budget allotted for the Dengvaxia was “converted as kickbacks.”
However, Taino refuted this claim saying the amount remained in the DOH’s undisbursed fund.
Asked if he was convinced by Duque’s statement that there was no syndicate or mafia in the DOH, Honasan did not answer the question but said that it was enough that he had time to present his side.
“It’s not a question of whether we were convinced. The Secretary categorically denied it and his staff made a presentation to address that particular issue that the so-called syndicate or mafia benefited from these programs and the transactions,” he said.
“Ang ginawa lang namin sa committee is give them equal-layer time to present their side,” he added.
In a separate interview, Duque said that he would respect whatever decision the CA would make regarding his confirmation.
Duque, who had only been DOH chief for three months, also served as DOH secretary during the term of former President and now Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo before he was appointed by President Rodrigo Duterte.