Duque threatened with contempt over House hearing ‘snub’
MANILA, Philippines — Health Secretary Francisco Duque III was threatened with contempt on Monday for seemingly snubbing two consecutive hearings of the House of Representatives where he was invited as a resource person.
During the hearing of the House committee on good government and public accountability on the policies of the Department of Health (DOH) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Anakalusugan Partylist Rep. Mike Defensor said that Duque has failed to attend their past two hearings and sent representatives instead.
Diwa Partylist Rep. Michael Aglipay, who chairs the committee, however said that the committee has yet to hear “officially” Duque’s reasons for his absence in the investigation.
This prompted Defensor to propose to Aglipay that the committee send a letter to Duque with threat of contempt should he fail to attend the next hearings.
“Ito ay motu propio hearing na natin ito e… If there is continued absence, I would request Mr Chairman, through you, that we write an official letter that in the next meeting, if they do not attend, then we can declare him in contempt,” Defensor said.
“Secretary Duque is a friend of mine pero kapag may absence — kasi ang regulatory policy, FDA. Pero ‘yung overall policy on public health is coming from the DOH, and I don’t think the undersecretaries can reply to the concerns to the questions before this committee,” he added.
Defensor later on officially moved to send a letter to Duque calling for his attendance in the future hearings. Defensor’s motion was approved.
“I move that we write an official letter to the Department of Health, particularly Secretary Duque, so that we can, in the next hearing, declare in contempt if there will be [absence] again,” Defensor said.
“I do not want to say that the committee is being snubbed but seemingly yun ang nangyayari,” he added.
Duque told INQUIRER.net that he is in a meeting in preparation for his presentation to President Rodrigo Duterte this afternoon.
“The DOH takes these sessions seriously and that is why we ensure we are ably represented in all these hearings. While the [Secretary of Health] may have missed two hearings, it is due to his responsibility in leading the country’s COVID-19 response,” Duque said.
“The first hearing was scheduled in the midst of an ongoing surge. Today’s hearing on the other hand, coincided with his preparation for the meeting with President Duterte in the afternoon,” he added.
Further, Duque said: “Moreover, to promote efficiency and optimize the executive time of our lawmakers, we delegate attendance to the appropriate teams and bureaus who are equipped to answer highly technical and process-specific queries.”
Domingo’s absence also questioned
Meanwhile, FDA Director General Eric Domingo’s absence was also questioned by Deputy Speaker Lito Atienza.
“My purpose in asking is that we are in hot pursuit of certain issues with the decision of the Director General. By conveniently taking a leave, would Congress allow this and not only for this particular position but for future inquiries?” Atienza said.
“By the convenient way of taking a leave, can they avoid congressional inquiry on their official decisions? Would we allow that later on?” he added.
Aglipay, in response, explained that Domingo is on one-month leave due to his father’s illness.
This, however, did not seem to satisfy Atienza.
“Very important, because the integrity of congressional inquiries are at stake in this particular issue. We will take the official person at this particular point, but we will not get into the habit of allowing persons who are being questioned,” Atienza said.
“These are official, instead of official positions that were being made and the alternates can conveniently say, ‘we have no knowledge of this’ and therefore, the inquiry will not be able to move,” he added.
INQUIRER.net has also sought Domingo’s comment but has yet to receive a reply.
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