“There's so much interference, so much static and people's voices talking about what you do and why you do it that I've learned to be like, 'No, no.' It's actually simple. I just do this.”
By Alex P. Vidal
IF Iloilo Governor Arthur “Toto” Defensor Jr. isn’t happy with both the health programs in the province of Iloilo and the way the provincial health office is handling the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, he can always call for the provincial health chief’s resignation.
Or the governor can replace the provincial health chief right away without prejudice to the latter’s security of tenure and civil service eligibility.
So far, so good.
The provincial health office, headed by Dr. Patricia Grace S. Trabado, has been doing a good job in the fight against the pandemic, and the governor appears to be pleased and satisfied.
But if Defensor Jr. is frustrated with the way the Department of Health (DoH) is being managed—especially if he finds the campaign to flatten the curve of COVID-19 cases in the country to be inefficient and unsatisfactory—the least he can do is recommend to President Rodrigo Roa Duterte that “incompetent” Secretary Francisco Duque III be sacked.
He can’t directly ask Duque III to yield his portfolio and escort him out of the DoH building.
Even if Defensor Jr. thinks that Duque III’s supposed negligence and mismanagement of the DoH will have immediate and far reaching effects to his Ilonggo constituents, in one way or the other, he doesn’t have a jurisdiction over Duque III’s employment in the Malacanang.
Since Duque III serves at the pleasure of President Duterte, only the president can remove him from the cabinet.
As long as Duque III enjoys the trust and confidence of the president, he can’t abandon his post only because some local chief executives don’t like him.
Thus Defensor Jr. made the right answer when asked by reporters recently if he would also call for Duque III’s resignation after Iloilo City Mayor Geronimo “Jerry” Treñas openly demanded for the controversial DoH boss’ resignation “for the sake of the country.”
Treñas thundered: “As a decision maker, what I can say is that the DOH has not done correct decisions since the start of this pandemic in the Philippines. That is why we are the country with the longest lockdown and yet the (COVID-19) cases continue to go up.”
The city mayor added: “I am not putting blame on anyone but there are decision makers. Secretary Francisco Duque is a friend because I have known him since the time of the late President Corazon Aquino. But I think it is really about time to accept responsibility and voluntarily resign for the sake of the country.”
Although several senators have also earlier called for Duque III’s resignation, Treñas became the first local chief executive outside Metro Manila to seek for Duque III’s ouster.
He must have been exasperated when the DoH had earlier called for the pulling out of 39 rural health workers from Western Visayas to be assigned in Cebu, now touted as the new COVID-19 epicenter.
Defensor Jr., on the other hand, wanted to leave Duque III’s fate to President Duterte even as he refused to reprimand the DoH chief or pass judgment on his performance, saying “he was not familiar” with the circumstance of the DoH tasks in the national office.
The governor reportedly admitted he had no basis to judge Duque III since he did not have a direct work relationship with the DoH secretary.
By refusing to interfere in a matter that only the president can decide, Defensor Jr. wanted to send a message his time and energy were focused only to the Ilonggos in his area of responsibility, and that he has nothing to do with the wrangling and intramural in the national level whatsoever.
COVID-19 is still wreaking havoc in many municipalities even as the province and city of Iloilo are still under modified general community quarantine (MGCQ) until July 15, 2020.
Defensor Jr. probably believed it’s not worth his effort to demand for the head of the top DoH official while the nation continues to struggle to surpass the deadly pandemic and lower down, if not totally stop, the number of infected cases and deaths.
The governor must have realized it’s not wise to fire the chief cook for committing a mea culpa in the middle of a big party where food preparations and kitchen works will last from lunch time to dinner time.
(The author, who is now based in New York City, used to be the editor of two local dailies in Iloilo)