Duterte stands by Duque but says he will accept resignation if offered

MANILA, Philippines — The Palace promised a “bombshell” during President Rodrigo Duterte’s taped address aired on Tuesday night but it began with a declaration that he would not fire Health Secretary Francisco Duque III.

Duque has been under fire in recent weeks because of an audit report by the Commission on Audit that flagged “deficiencies” in Department of Health spending that hampered the government’s pandemic response.

“The popular notion is they (agencies) are flagged because there is corruption,” Duterte said of the report. 

The COA did not discuss corruption in its report, only potential irregularities and inefficiencies in public spending. Auditors recommended that Duque remind heads of operating units, hospitals, and other facilities, to “act with urgency and efficiency” in using funds allocated to the department.

At a House briefing last week, COA chairperson Michael Aguinaldo said that DOH had been given time to respond to auditors’ findings. The health department was aware of audit deadlines, he said, adding the agency can still submit supporting documents to address audit findings.

“There are constant meetings with the management,” he told House lawmakers. “There is also an exit conference, so it’s not correct to say there was no due process.”

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Duterte: Duque ‘painted black’ by audit report

But Duterte said the report had already “painted Duque black.” He clarified that he is not saying that COA targeted Duque or that government spending should not be checked but said auditors should be “fair” in summarizing their findings.

He added he will not fire Duque, who has also been criticized for the government’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Kung si Duque will offer to resign voluntarily, tatanggapin ko (If Duque offers to resign voluntarily, I will accept it),” the president said.

“Pero pag ako magsabi sa kanya mag-resign ka (But for me to tell him to resign), that will never happen,” he said.

He stressed that he would not hesitate to fire Cabinet officials for corruption involving “even just P10,000” but said also that he will not entertain “outright dismissal because of the clamor of the public.”

Reporting by Nadine Castro

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