President OKs Ona’s quitting post but no reasons cited
MANILA, Philippines—President Benigno Aquino III has accepted the resignation of Health Secretary Enrique Ona more than a month after he was asked to go on leave to explain an allegedly questionable purchase of antipneumonia vaccines.
The Palace announcement did not state why the President had accepted Ona’s resignation, nor did it cite the reasons that the health official gave for quitting his post.
There was also no information on whether Mr. Aquino had completed his review of Ona’s explanation behind the approval of the purchase of P800 million worth of pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV) 10 instead of the supposedly more cost-efficient PCV 13.
Malacañang did not say who would be replacing Ona. Since his leave in October, Health Undersecretary Janette Garin, a former Iloilo representative from the President’s Liberal Party, has been designated acting secretary and has been occupying Ona’s office.
President Aquino had ealier asked Ona to go on a monthlong leave to put together an explanation for the allegedly questionable government transaction involving the vaccines.
But a source close to the former health chief said Ona was already anticipating the President’s decision to accept his resignation and was “happy” about it, “because now he can defend himself openly,” he said.
On Monday, Ona asked his staff at the Department of Health (DOH) to pack his belongings and have them delivered to his residence. On the same day, he went to Malacañang to submit his resignation letter.
“Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa Jr. informed Health Secretary Enrique Ona that the President has accepted his resignation effective today,” read the note that Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. e-mailed to the media on Friday afternoon.
The source said Mr. Aquino was not around to personally accept the letter, so Ona left it with a staff member at the Office of the President.
In his resignation letter, Ona said it was time for him to move on so he could spend more time with his family.
“I have now reached an age that compels me to go on in life that will allow me to spend more time with my family and take a less demanding task,” the 75-year-old surgeon wrote. “It is, therefore, in this regard that I tender my resignation from my position as secretary of the [DOH].”
Ona’s letter also mentioned his major contributions as health chief, which included the passage of two landmark legislations: the reproductive health bill and sin tax law.
“It has been a great honor, a privilege and a humbling experience to have served as your secretary of (health) for more than four years,” wrote Ona.
“It was because of your vision and unrelenting support that two landmark legislations on health… were passed that will have a profound and lasting effect in the health care of our people,” the health official said in his letter.
Universal health care was also achieved, with coverage for almost 100 percent of poor Filipino households, Ona wrote.
“This initial achievement will define the health direction of your administration for the years to come,” he wrote President Aquino, adding that the DOH was continuing to address human immunodeficiency virus/acquired immune deficiency syndrome as well as tuberculosis cases in the country. It was also tackling other emerging diseases, such as the dreaded Ebola virus and the Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus.
In his explanation to the President about the vaccines, Ona maintained that his decision to approve the purchase of PCV 10 instead of PCV 13 was the “best judgment” to “optimize limited government resources.”
He said PCV 10 costs $1 less per dose compared to PCV 13, and thus saved the government at least P231.7 million.
No complaint from WHO
President Aquino earlier directed the National Bureau of Investigation to look into the alleged irregularities in the procurement of the vaccines, following a complaint allegedly filed directly in the Office of the President by the National Center for Pharmaceutical Access and Management and the World Health Organization (WHO).
The WHO, however, denied it had filed a complaint against Ona.
The antipneumonia vaccination initially targeted 700,000 children under 1-year-old belonging to the poorest households listed in the government’s National Household Targeting System for Poverty Reduction.
But the government eventually decided to roll out a nationwide vaccination program for some one million children belonging to the country’s poorest households.
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