Palace: Duterte unhappy about adviser’s attacks on DOH
Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque on Thursday denied he was behind the ouster of a health adviser from the government’s COVID-19 task force, saying President Rodrigo Duterte himself was unhappy about the former consultant’s attacks on the Department of Health (DOH) on social media.
Dr. Anthony Leachon announced his resignation as special adviser to the National Task Force Against COVID-19 on Wednesday, a day after being told by the group’s chief, Carlito Galvez Jr., that Roque and Health Secretary Francisco Duque III were displeased with him over his comments on Facebook and Twitter about the DOH’s “lack of focus” in managing the coronavirus crisis.
“He’s giving me too much credit. I’m just the [national saliva]. I don’t have the power to compel any of them to resign,” Roque told a press briefing, stressing that he was just the spokesperson for the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases, the temporary government body overseeing the Duterte administration’s handling of the public health crisis.
Roque recalled that members of the task force’s strategic communications team had been asking why Leachon had been attacking the DOH when he was supposed to be an ally and not an enemy.
“In the last meeting with the President, the President himself asked, ‘Why is Leachon talking like this?’” Roque said.
“Let me correct you, Dr. Leachon. Not me, not Secretary Duque. The President himself noted that you should not be doing what you were doing,” he said.
Galvez said on Wednesday that Leachon was removed for preempting the official release of information, which jeopardized the government’s communication strategy.
Roque said on Thursday that the President did not explicitly call for Leachon’s resignation because the Palace was unsure at the time what Leachon’s role was.
“Secretary Galvez said he was [dismayed by] what the President declared as far as the statements of Dr. Leachon [were] concerned. It was not me or Secretary Duque who urged Secretary Galvez to let go of him. It was a declaration of the President himself,” Roque said.
Leachon, he said, made it appear that “everyone was lying, except him.”
“There is a need to improve the reporting of data to make it accurate, but no one is lying. Many got angry, especially us in the strategic communications, because we meet daily on how to present the real data without inducing panic. And here comes someone saying he is the only one telling the truth,” Roque said. “He does not have [a] monopoly [on] truth, and we have never lied.”
Roque challenged Leachon to divulge where exactly the government lied in its COVID-19 data.
In a text message to the Inquirer, Leachon said he believed it was his moral responsibility to inform the public about the current health situation in the country.
“It would be a great disservice to the Filipino people if I would not advise people using another set of eyes based on scientific evidence,” he said.
Leachon said the Ombudsman investigation of the DOH would vindicate him on the points he cited on social media.
Ombudsman Samuel Martires announced the investigation on Wednesday, saying it would include an inquiry into “confusing and delayed” reporting of coronavirus cases.
Roque denied that the coronavirus task force made decisions based on late data and not on real-time data as Leachon claimed.
He said the government never hid the fact that some data were late and others were “fresh.” The government, Roque said, is constantly trying to improve its data reporting.
On Thursday, the DOH reported 562 additional coronavirus infections, taking the national caseload to 27,799. Of the additional cases, 481 were fresh, or patients who tested positive for the coronavirus in the last three days, and 81 were late, or patients whose positive results were released four days ago or earlier.
Of the fresh cases, 120 were from Metro Manila, 273 from Central Visayas and the rest spread across the country.
The DOH also reported that 270 more patients had recovered, bringing the number of COVID-19 survivors to 7,090. But it also reported nine more deaths, pushing the toll to 1,116. —WITH A REPORT FROM TINA G. SANTOS
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