Ona: Loss of Aquino’s confidence prompted me to quit
President Benigno Aquino III’s loss of confidence in Enrique Ona’s leadership was what prompted the former health secretary to quit his post and not the investigation of his alleged involvement in the questionable procurement of vaccines worth P833 million in 2012.
“As an alter ego of the President, I had to offer my resignation [after losing the President’s vote of confidence]. However, I am grateful for the opportunity and huge privilege given to me by the President,’’ Ona told reporters in a press conference Tuesday.
A source close to the former health secretary told the Inquirer that Ona announced his resignation after Mr. Aquino revealed in Busan, Korea, that the health secretary is facing more charges on top of the controversy regarding the purchase of antipneumonia vaccines, which also involved Assistant Secretary Eric Tayag and acting Health Secretary Janette Garin.
“The pronouncements of the President that Secretary Enrique Ona is being made to answer not just for issues concerning the government’s vaccination program, but also for three to four other matters were too much for him and it’s obvious that the President had lost confidence on him,” said the source, who asked not to be named.
In his resignation letter dated Nov. 27, a copy of which was obtained by the Inquirer, Ona cited old age the reason for relinquishing his post.
He said he has reached an age where he needs to spend more time with his family and “take a less demanding task.”
Ona said he was not able to talk to the President after he went on a month-long “medical leave” in October, supposedly after experiencing severe allergic reaction from the use of damaging hair dye. It turned out to be the least of his concerns.
“The President is very concerned about giving enough preventive care, which was what we were doing. For the first time, hundreds of millions of Filipino children received vaccination. The President wants more emphasis in preventive care,’’ Ona said.
Ona maintained that he did not earn from any project of the Department of Health (DOH).
“Categorically, I could say I did not receive any centavo from projects of the DOH. Personally, no one even tried to bribe me. However, I could not speak for others, I am also trying to know if [someone committed an irregularity that escaped my notice],’’ Ona said.
He also said that contrary to some reports, the World Health Organization (WHO) did not recommend the 13-valent pneumococcal conjugate vaccine, also called PCV 13, as a more cost-effective alternative to Ona’s choice of PCV 10.
The recommendation merely stated “that both vaccines are cost-effective,” Ona said.
Ona admitted that there were two “competing opinions within the DOH, each one having their own rationale.’’
He said that Garin and Tayag, both linked to the anomaly, “have certain differences and disagreements.” However, Ona said he agreed with Tayag.
But he said he takes full responsibility for his decision as the head of the health department.
“I used my medical value judgment which was well within my discretionary powers as secretary of health,” Ona said.
He also denied allegations that a pharmaceutical company had influenced his decision in the purchase of the vaccines.
President Aquino has yet to appoint a replacement for Ona.
When asked about his relationship with the acting health secretary, Ona said he thought it was “very ideal.’’
Ona said that even before his resignation became official, his personal stuff were removed from his office and sent to his house in Pasig City on orders of Garin.
“My personal things were brought to my house even before I officially announced my resignation and there’s only one person in DOH who could make such order,’’ Ona said.
It’s final; Ona quits
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