The Office of the Ombudsman is pushing through with its investigation into the Department of Health’s (DOH) alleged mishandling of the COVID-19 pandemic, despite the latter’s complaint that the probe would distract them from fulfilling their mandate.
Ombudsman Samuel Martires told talk show The Source in an interview today that they started investigating after learning about the COVID-19 test kits that were being developed by the University of the Philippines scientists, which he alleged were initially ignored by the DOH.
“We conducted a discrete investigation asking some people in the Department of Health and we found out that there was some politics involved [which was why they were ignoring the test kits]. We also heard the allegation that the Department of Health was buying 100,000 test kits and according to news reports there was something anomalous about the purchase,” he said in English and Filipino.
Martires said the investigation started before the March lockdown of Metro Manila. He alleged that his team was given the runaround by Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire’s staff and the employees of the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine, the DOH’s premier lab.
“We could not take off because as I said, they [said] they are attending meetings, or no one wants to answer our questions until the lockdown stopped our work,” he said.
In a separate CNN Philippines interview, Vergeire said the DOH employees’ morale was affected by the Ombudsman’s investigation and added that attending to it would distract them from responding to the pandemic. Martirez, however, dismissed their concerns.
“All of the people whom we had investigated, that was their reason–that they would be distracted from their work. But you always have soldiers to do it for you. The initial approach of our investigation is just to gather some documents so I think the good Undersecretary can just order her subordinates to furnish the documents,” Martires said.
He added that Filipinos, and not just the DOH team, are having an emotionally difficult time with the pandemic.
“Are we not suffering [from] low morale too? Are we happy with what is happening? Are the medical frontliners happy with what is happening to them? That’s what I want to ask. Why do they (DOH) always think of themselves? Why do they not think of the good of others?”
Martires added that during a visit to Cebu City, he learned that some hospitals are having a difficult time getting protective equipment for their healthcare workers, some of whom had gotten infected.
“Who is responsible for these things? Somebody must be held accountable for all these things,” Martires said.
The DOH, specifically its chief, Secretary Francisco Duque, has borne the brunt of public criticism since the first COVID-19 patient was discovered in the country. Several lawmakers had asked Duque to resign in April, alleging that his “failure of leadership” led to the DOH’s “poor planning, delayed response, lack of transparency, and misguided and flip-flopping policies.”
Shortly after that, Senator Sonny Angara, a recovered COVID-19 patient, divulged that families of frontliners who had died of the disease have yet to receive their promised financial assistance. Instead of owning up to it, Duque blamed his staff in a publicly broadcast meeting with President Rodrigo Duterte.
This article, Somebody must be held accountable for messed up COVID-19 response, says Ombudsman Martirez, originally appeared on Coconuts, Asia's leading alternative media company. Want more Coconuts? Sign up for our newsletters!