Duterte: No reason to sack Duque

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    The President confers with DOH Secretary Duque as Sen. Bong Go listens. (Photo by: Ace Morandante / Presidential Photo)

    PRESIDENT Duterte on Monday night said he could not find any reason or evidence to sack Health Secretary Francisco Duque III.

    Defending Duque anew, the President said the health chief is a “hard-working government worker” and as a former prosecutor, he needs probable cause and prima facie evidence to remove the secretary.

    The President said he has gone through the initial findings of the task force he formed to look into allegations of irregularities in the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth), which Duque chairs, but could not find a reason to prosecute the health secretary.

    “I have read the findings and for the life of me I cannot really find a good reason to prosecute an innocent man. Mine is to not really prosecute just for the sake of being somebody being prosecuted. My job is to see to it that the rule of law — the rules for or against a person — are followed,” he said.

    Task Force PhilHealth, in a report submitted to Duterte, recommended “strong admonition” for Duque and other members of the PhilHealth board for the consequences of their “action or inaction” on the state insurer, but recommended the filing of graft charges against several PhilHealth officials, including resigned president and CEO Ricardo Morales, amid allegations of corruption in the agency.

    Among the allegations were the procurement of overpriced IT equipment, questionable release of funds under the corporation’s Interim Reimbursement Mechanism (IRM), and manipulation of the corporation’s financial status.

    Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said the President was not trying to influence the ongoing investigations of TF PhilHealth, led by Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra, but merely expressing what he feels, along with his continued trust and confidence in Duque.

    He said the President, as lawyer, is “open-minded” to the fact that he formed a task force, and the Senate has the power to investigate, and if there is evidence, the President would look at the evidence.

    The Senate has recommended the filing of charges against Duque and other PhilHealth officials.

    Guevarra expressed belief Duterte’s latest expression of support for Duque is not meant to exonerate him, and it will not affect the task force’s probe.

    “I view the President’s statement as an expression of trust, not of exoneration. If evidence should turn up against anyone, regardless of position, I believe that the President, who has prosecutorial blood running in his veins, will not impede the legal process from taking its due course,”Guevarra said.

    “The DOJ will simply continue what it has been directed by the President to do, that is, to bring any and all lawbreakers at PhilHealth before the bars of justice,” he added.

    TF PhilHealth, through the National Bureau of Investigation, on Friday filed criminal charges against Morales and several other PhilHealth officials before the Office of the Ombudsman but spared Duque and PhilHealth senior vice president Rodolfo del Rosario from the indictment.

    Guevarra on Monday told the Senate that other “big fish” may he indicted soon. He did not identify the officials to be charged.

    Senate President Vicente Sotto III said he expects the task force “to sift through the evidence and findings rather than simply accept the opinion of other officials.”

    “That’s the opinion of the President. We should respect each other’s opinion, mine being in the contrary,” he added.

    The Senate Committee of the Whole earlier recommended the filing of malversation of public funds or property against Duque since as PhilHealth chairman of the board.

    Sen. Panfilo Lacson reiterated he does not have any doubt on the “probity and consistency” of Guevarra when it comes to performing an assigned task, but President Duterte is “sending mixed signals” regarding Duque’s possible involvement in the PhilHealth mess.

    “While he (Duterte) unequivocally stated before that he was giving the DOJ-led task force a free hand in the conduct of their investigation, even announcing to all and sundry that he will adopt whatever findings the TF has and even join Secretary Guevarra in signing the complaint sheet, he is saying another thing when it involves Duque. As netizens would often express their confusion, ‘Ano ba talaga kuya?’ (What’s the real truth, brother?),” Lacson said. — With Ashzel Hachero and Raymond Africa