5 ex-DOH chiefs, over 300 doctors speak out vs Duterte's attempt to 'obstruct' probe into pandemic spending

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, October 11) — More than 300 physicians, past and present health leaders, and five former Health secretaries stood up against President Rodrigo Duterte's supposed attempts to block Senate investigations on alleged anomalies in COVID-19 response funds.

The Philippine College of Physicians, including its past presidents, signed a strongly-worded letter of indignation and call to action addressed to the government.

Even former Health secretaries Carmencita Reodica, Manuel Dayrit, Enrique Ona Jr, Esperanza Cabral and Paulyn Ubial signed the statement asking Duterte not to "obstruct" the Blue Ribbon Committee inquiry.

"The PCP, past presidents, and other people who have signed the statement think that the President is actually obstructing the investigation," Cabral said.

Last week, Duterte signed a memorandum that directed Health Secretary Francisco Duque III and other members of the Cabinet to ignore summons of the Senate committee led by Richard Gordon. He said the probe hampers pandemic response efforts since key officials will have to attend the hearings that usually last for a whole day. He also warned senators he will send them to jail if they cite Cabinet members in contempt.

RELATED: Senators slam Duterte's 'unconstitutional' order barring Cabinet members from hearings

Maricar Limpin, president of PCP, slammed Duterte's order.

"We all deserve to know the truth," Limpin said in a media briefing. "Aayawan ho namin ang anumang tangka na pigilan ang testimonya o cover-up ng totoong nangyayari kaya kami ay naririto ngayon para manawagan for transparency, exigency, and accountability."

[Translation: We will reject all efforts to block or cover-up the testimonies on what truly happened, so we are here to demand transparency, exigency, and accountability.]

Dr. Norberto Lingling Uy said Duterte should be the first to launch a probe or order his officials to attend investigations if his priority is to uncover possible anomalies in the handling of pandemic funds or if he values his countrymen.

Dr. Eugene Ramos, a former president of PCP, said the letter personally signed by hundreds of leading physicans in the country is a big deal since doctors typically do not engage in protests related to politics so they can focus on their duties.

But this time, silence is no longer an option, he said.

"Hindi karaniwang korapsyon ang nangyayari ngayon," he stressed. "Ito kaming mga doktor na nagngingitngit ngunit gusto pa ring tumulong kung may pag-asa pa. Ngayon kami ay makikialam na."

[Translation: This is not your regular corrupt activities. Doctors are fuming but we still want to help if we can fix this. We are speaking up now.]

Ramos added: "Health is central to life and its development. We cannot afford to leave the nation's health in the hands of politicians whose priorities are on something else."

Another former PCP president, Dr. Vicente Tanseco Jr., said the medical professionals will not take it sitting down.

"Kami ay nandito dahil sa conscience," Tanseco said. "Matagal kaming nananahimik ngunit ngayon hindi na kaya ng aming conscience."

[Translation: We have been quiet for the longest time. But we are speaking up now because our conscience can no longer take it.]

Aside from their appeal to Duterte, the doctors also called on government officials to support the pursuit of truth.

They also asked the Department of Justice to conduct an impartial investigation, and urged the Ombudsman to file appropriate cases against those found to have engaged in anomalous transactions.

Silence from the Philippine Medical Association

Limpin and Dr. Tony Leachon, a health reform advocate, confirmed that the Philippine Medical Association (PMA) have not expressed support for their protest. PMA is the umbrella organization of all doctors and medical practitioners in the country.

"If they don't recognize there is a problem and turn a blind eye, then you are an accomplice to perpetuating a crime," Leachon said. "There is apathy and lack of proactive measures from the mother org."

Limpin said she remains hopeful the PMA will stand with them in their fight.