MANILA — The Department of Health (DOH) on Wednesday said it was open to the investigation of 5 officials the Ombudsman recently suspended over a pending case, but hoped for its quick resolution citing that they are critical to the agency's pandemic response.
“Yesterday we have received the decision coming from the Ombudsman. Lungkot na lungkot kami na at this time of the pandemic nagkakaroon tayo ng ganitong sitwasyon (We are very sad that this happened during the pandemic),” Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said during a virtual briefing.
Vergeire pointed out that the officials play “critical roles in our response to the pandemic.”
Among those who were issued a 6-month preventive suspension order without pay are Undersecretary Roger Tong-an, Assistant Secretary Kenneth Ronquillo, Assistant Secretary Maylene Beltran, Director Laureano Cruz, and Administrative Officer Esperanza Carating.
They are being investigated due to the late release of benefits for health workers in the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic response. Besides this, the DOH is also being investigated for delayed procurement of personal protective equipment and other irregularities.
Vergeire said the preventive suspension is not a penalty since it has not been proven that the officials did any wrongdoing.
“This is not a penalty. It’s a process legally na ginagawa para lang ma-facilitate ang pagiimbestiga na walang impluwensya ng taong nasasakdal (It’s a process legally that is done to facilitate investigation while ensuring that there is no undue influence from those charged),” she said.
Vergeire reiterated that the DOH is open to any investigation and that it would abide by government processes, but sought speedy resolution of the case so the officials could return to work if cleared.
“Ang amin lang pong hiling sana mapabilis ang pagreresolba ng kaso,” she said. “At kung sakaling mapatunayan na wala namang issues and kasalanan or violation then our officials can go back to their work.”
(Our only request is that the case is quickly resolved…and if it is proven that our officials are not guilty or not in violation of laws then they can go back to their work.)
Vergeire also said she trusts the said officials.
“We are supporting our 5 officials. These officials [have] been with us for decades already, nagbigay na po ng ganung sakripisyo ang commitment and integrity-wise sila ay mapagkakatiwalaan (They’ve sacrificed and showed commitment and integrity-wise they are trustworthy),” she said.
As the Ombudsman case progressed, the DOH chief, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III, may potentially face another case as he is among those recommended to be held liable for alleged anomalies at PhilHealth in a report by the House Committee on Public Accounts and the Committee on Good Government and Public Accountability released Tuesday.
In response to this, Vergeire just reiterated that the DOH and the Secretary is open to being investigated.
“Naga-abide tayo, kung ano ang kailangan nilang kooperasyong galing sa ating Department of Health at galing kay Secretary Duque ay gagawin natin para lumabas ang katotohanan,” she said.
(We are abiding with whatever cooperation they require of the Department of Health and Secretary Duque so that the truth will come out.)
Earlier, the Senate also named Duque among those who should be prosecuted, along with former and current PhilHealth officials, over alleged corruption at the state health insurer.