Palace: Ona’s leave ‘definitely not indefinite’
MANILA, Philippines–The time frame is unknown, but it’s definitely not indefinite.
This was how Malacañang described on Saturday the leave of absence of Health Secretary Enrique Ona, who got a new lease on his Cabinet post on Friday after his monthlong leave of absence was extended.
“As to the duration, I have not been advised yet. For one, I know that it’s not indefinite,” deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said on state-run Radyo ng Bayan.
President Aquino asked Ona to go on leave in late October to allow him to put together an explanation of his decision to buy P800 million worth of pneumococcal conjugate vaccine 10 (PCV 10) when the Department of Health (DOH) was set to buy the better-performing PCV 13.
PCV 10 is slightly cheaper than PCV 13, which is recommended by global health authorities.
Not corruption issue
The pneumonia vaccine is part of the Expanded Program on Immunization (EPI) of the DOH.
Ona has denied any wrongdoing in the purchase of PCV 10.
Valte said President Aquino had not classified the controversy as a graft and corruption issue.
But there are other issues hounding Ona: his request for the upgrading of the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM) costing P800 million; the renovation of Fabella Hospital in Manila that cost P1 billion; and a questionable clinical test of an unproven drug for dengue and malaria.
Ona is the first Cabinet member whom the President has told to go on leave as a controversy is being resolved.
On Friday, Valte clarified that Ona had not resigned, contrary to the health secretary’s statement that he would submit a courtesy resignation to President Aquino as his leave of absence was about to expire.
Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa told Ona on Thursday afternoon that his leave of absence had been extended.
Ona sent his explanation of his PCV 10 decision to the Palace last week.
‘Give him time’
Valte on Saturday said Aquino should be given time to study Ona’s explanation.
“Let’s just wait for the assessment to be finished,” Valte said.
Asked if studying Ona’s explanation was a priority of the President and if it could be completed before Christmas, Valte said: “I cannot preempt when but the report will receive the attention it deserves from the President.”
As to the statement of the World Health Organization denying that it was one of the agencies that protested Ona’s decision to get PCV 10 instead of PCV 13, Valte said she had also seen the agency’s statement on its website, where it clarified certain news reports.
“I’m quite sure that it will be considered also by [Justice] Secretary [Leila] de Lima in the course of their investigation,” Valte said.
The National Bureau of Investigation is investigating the PCV 10 purchase apparently on orders of President Aquino.
Originally posted: 7:59 PM | Saturday, November 29th, 2014
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