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PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte reiterated his support for Department of Health (DOH) Secretary Francisco Duque III amid calls to remove the embattled health chief for his supposed failure to prevent the COVID-19 crisis in the Philippines from worsening, among other issues.

For the nth time, the Chief Executive defended his appointee over allegations of corruption, while admitting to being pressured by his own Cabinet to fire Duque, whose department topped the list of graft-breeding agencies released by Senator Manny Pacquiao.

Bakit ko tanggalin? Against the advice of the many, even Cabinet members, sabi ko I will stick with the man na walang kasalanan and working, only doing his job. There is no coherent reason why Duque should be out,” the President said.

“Pero kung gusto niyang umalis, ibang istorya ‘yan. Pero really, nahihiya ako. Mahiya akong mag-ano ng tao na walang kasalanan. After all, ako ‘yong nagsabi sa kanya na ‘Join me here’,” Duterte said.

In a bid to keep Duque from any accountability, Duterte said that lack of COVID-19 vaccines significantly contributed to the lackluster government pandemic response.

The real problem can be answered in one statement: supply,” he claimed.

Despite controversies surrounding Duque, Duterte earlier hailed him as a “hero” of the Philippines’ response to COVID-19 at a time when there was a new surge of infections in the country.

Calls for Duque’s resignation are not new. He has in fact been urged to step down since March last year over his alleged lapses and failures in addressing the COVID-19 outbreak in the Philippines.

Duque was also accused of “dropping the ball” in the Philippines’ COVID-19 vaccine deal with pharmaceutical giant Pfizer, leaving the country behind other neighbors in procuring jabs from the drugmaker.

However, it was the P15-billion PhilHealth scam which had placed Duque, in his capacity as chairman of the embattled state insurer, at the limelight. A resigned PhilHealth official tagged him and other top executives and board members of pocketing P15 billion in state funds, and approved the request of overpriced projects and fund releases to supposedly favored hospitals.

The PhilHealth controversy compelled the Senate to pass a resolution calling for Duque’s resignation.

Interestingly, Duque simply shrugged it all off.

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