Philippines ombudsman on Wednesday said the health secretary was under investigation over allegations of lapses and incompetencies in response to the coronavirus outbreak. Ombudsman Samuel Martires said other officials and employees of the Department of Health (DOH) would also be included in the investigation launched by his office, which could result in criminal or administrative charges. “I directed the creation of two more investigating teams who will jointly investigate alleged irregularities and anomalies committed by DOH officials and employees. “This also includes Health Secretary Francisco Duque, in relations to the response of the DOH during this pandemic,” Martires said. He added that among the problems being looked into were the purchase of overpriced test kits, delayed procurement of personal protective equipment for health workers, and confusing and delayed reporting of deaths and confirmed cases. The ombudsman said his office had also received complaints about inaction in the release of benefits and financial assistance for front-line medical workers who died or got sick with COVID-19. However, Duque said he and the department welcomed the investigations, adding, saying “we are ready, the papers and documents are ready.”
He said DOH officials would willingly cooperate with the authorities to ensure utmost transparency throughout the duration of the investigation and beyond. In April, some legislators and medical experts had called for Duque’s resignation, alleging “failure of leadership, negligence, lack of foresight and inefficiency in the performance of his mandate.” President Rodrigo Duterte rejected the calls and told the official to stay in his post. The investigation was announced as one of the key health advisers to an inter-agency task force on coronavirus resigned from his post, following differences with the health department. Physician Tony Leachon said he was pressured to quit after he criticised the health department in a series of social media posts. “I left due to my differences with DOH policies, lack of sense of urgency, problems in Covid-19 data management, transparency in communication process, and poor execution of plans,” said Leachon. The department reported 457 additional confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the Philippines, bringing the national tally to 27,238. It also reported five additional deaths to push the toll to 1,108.