DOH vouches for 5 execs suspended by Ombudsman, hopes for speedy resolution

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, October 28) — The Department of Health on Wednesday stood by five of its officials who were preventively suspended due to alleged lapses and anomalies in COVID-19 response.

Ombudsman Samuel Martires on Tuesday ordered the six-month suspension without pay of Undersecretary Roger Tong-An, Assistant Secretaries Kenneth Ronquillo and Maylene Beltran, and Directors Laureano Cruz and Esperanza Carating for the late releases of benefits of healthcare workers who died or got infected with COVID-19, as well as the anomalous purchase of personal protective equipment meant to protect the frontliners.

Health spokesperson Maria Rosario Vergeire said the entire department was saddened when the news came out, reiterating the officials have not yet been proven guilty. She said these officials have decades-worth of performance records to back them up.

"We are supporting our five officials. These officials have been with us for decades already, nagbigay na ng ganoong sakripisyo, commitment. Intergrity-wise, sila po ay mapagkakatiwalaan," she said in a media forum.

[Translation: They have been with us for decades already. They have sacrificed and showed their commitment for decades. In terms of integrity, they are trustworthy.]

DOH said they will comply with all the requirements of the Ombudsman so the investigation can be wrapped up quickly as the suspended executives play crucial roles in the government's COVID-19 response.

"Ang amin lang hiling sana ay magkaroon na po ng resolusyon para matapos na. Sakaling mapatunayan na wala namang issues, kasalanan, and violations, then our officials can go back to their work," Vergeire said.

[Translation: Our wish is for the resolution to be completed soon. If proven that there have been no violations, they can go back to work.]

The Office of the Ombudsman started investigating Health Secretary Francisco Duque III and other DOH officials in March.

At the start of the pandemic, several health workers complained of shortage of PPE and other medical gear in hospitals to protect them from contracting the virus — forcing some to use garbarge bags as makeshift PPE. In June, it was revealed that 32 health workers died but did not receive the ₱1 million their families were meant to receive as part of the Bayanihan to Heal As One Act.