President Rodrigo Duterte has not been sufficiently visible as the COVID-19 pandemic continuously cripples the country a year after the public health crisis dawned, a group of health workers and online petitioners argued.
Dr. Edelina dela Paz, a community medicine specialist and chairperson of the Health Alliance for Democracy, a group of individuals from the health sector, said that it wouldn’t be a problem if the president steps down from his position.
In an interview with ANC on Monday, the physician was asked about the timing of calls for resignation as Duterte has a little over a year left in his term
“Assuming that later on, by some miracle, he decides to really step down, wouldn’t it impose a bigger problem to the Philippines if the president resigns in the middle of the pandemic?” ANC’s Christian Esguerra asked.
Dela Paz responded: “Well actually, he’s not doing anything, so what problem will it further cost? So we are actually looking for more accountability, more progressive and proactive action. If he resigns, then it’s good because the vice president can take over. We will follow the regular succession based on the Constitution.”
“Even if it’s just one year to go, we are having an increasing number of cases. Will we still wait, such that a lot more people will be dying? We cannot wait anymore… ‘yung isang taon, malaking panahon rin ‘yan para magbago at wala namang nangyayari at walang indication na magbabago,” she added.
A growing online petition
Dela Paz is one of the signatories of a circulating petition calling for Duterte to resign from his position in the middle of what could be the worst and most prolonged crisis the country experienced in the past three decades.
She said the initiative is not a political statement but an authentic call from concerned citizens.
The petition was initially signed by 500 medical frontliners, educators, youth leaders, religious, lawyers, civic leaders and concerned citizens on April 15.
It later gained more traction as it reached a wider crowd on social media.
The petition seeks a “competent leadership that can finally ramp up free mass testing, expand contact tracing, and build the isolation and treatment facilities” to further empower the health system.
“Over one year into the pandemic, the public health crisis has deepened. We have record numbers of daily infections, positivity rates and deaths. The public health system is at breaking point. Our economy is just as bad. Too many patients are dying without getting access to critical care,” part of its statement reads.
The petition has gained nearly 60,000 digital signatures so far.
Others echoed Dela Paz’s sentiments. “Within one year, our country is still on the same page, worse even. Thousands of lives are already in your hands, ‘wag mo nang dagdagan,” a Twitter user said, quote tweeting the interview.
“Ika nga eh, hindi kawalan… Malamang solusyon pa nga,” another online user said in response to the resignation calls.
A few of the identified lapses attributed to the government were:
- Delaying the travel ban on China, where the virus was reported to be spreading last year.
- Assigning former military officials to spearhead the task force designed to combat a health crisis.
— Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu, a retired Army general, was appointed as the response chief last year to address Cebu City’s then-growing COVID-19 cases.
— Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana heads the National Task Force Against COVID-19, while former Armed Forces of the Philippines Chief of Staff and now Interior Secretary Eduardo Año is its vice-chairman.
— Former armed forced chief Carlito Galvez Jr. sits as the vaccine czar and acts as the chief implementer of the government’s national response against COVID-19.
— Others who are not from the medical field include economist Vince Dizon who is assigned to oversee the country’s COVID-19 testing but has rejected calls to conduct mass testing despite it being advocated by the World Health Organization.
- Health Secretary Francisco Duque III had met repeated calls to resign due to his supposed “lack of competence, efficiency, and foresight bordering on negligence in handling the health crisis.”
- Apart from the government’s COVID-19 response, Duterte is also being hit by the petitioners for his “subservience to China” despite its encroachment in the West Philippine Sea and the bleak economic situation faced by the country.
What the Palace said
Duterte, however, said that his administration did not fall short in addressing the ongoing health crisis.
“I’d like to just disabuse the mind of na nagkulang tayo. Wala na kayong tiningnan kung hindi ‘yong kag***han ninyo. Hindi tayo nagkulang. Right after the WHO advisory, the following day—day after, basta within 48 hours, we already had the task force, ‘yong task force ngayon,” Duterte said in his April 15 speech.
Last month, his spokesman also said the government managed to control the COVID-19 transmissions.
“We were excellent. Na-control po natin ang pagkalat ng sakit lalung-lalo na kung ikukumpara tayo sa mas mayayaman at mga bansa na mas mararami at mas moderno ang mga ospital,” presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said.