Health Secretary Enrique Ona must answer squarely President Benigno Aquino 3rd’s “questions” on the perceived corruption in the government’s vaccination program and his supposed failure to prepare for outbreaks such as the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Corona Virus (Mers-Cov).
Aquino on Monday admitted that Ona’s fate at the Department of Health (DOH) hangs on how he will answer the questions.
Ona was initially reported to have filed for a leave of absence until November 28 due to an allergy. But Aquino gave reporters a clearer picture of the circumstances surrounding the Health chief’s leave.
“Whether or not I am satisfied will come after the results of these answers to the questions that were propounded to him,” the President said.
He particularly cited the vaccination campaign and the proposed additional budget for the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM), the frontline agency in the fight against the spread of communicable and deadly diseases.
“I have been asking him about striking a balance between the preventive and curative aspects of medicine and public health. I told him, ‘Isn’t our mission to make sure that no one gets sick and no one needs to be hospitalized?’” the President said.
He added that Ona asked to present details of the immunization plan such as assumptions, projects done, target population, forms of programs, schedules and results of deliveries.
“He will not be able to give satisfactory answers if he continues to perform day-to-day functions as Secretary of Health. So he asked for a leave to give him time to prepare his answers,” according to Aquino.
On the issue of the additional P600 million Ona requested for RITM, the President said he disagreed with the immediate release of the funds because they are yet to identify where the funds would be sourced.
He noted that Ona could have made the proposal and the necessary preparations long ago during the yearly budget call by government agencies.
“We cannot just allocate P600 million especially since the budget is still with the Senate although the House [of Representatives]had passed on third reading the proposed budget [for 2015]. Now, if we would get funds from savings we might be questioned again. We are making things sure,” the President said.
Aquino was referring to the controversy surrounding the Disbursement Acceleration Pogram (DAP) that was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. The program allowed for the use of savings in reallocating resources for projects other than the intended purpose.
The President said Ona brought up the matter of the RITM and he told him that it must go through the process.
“You should have done that from the beginning,” he recalled telling the Health secretary.
Aquino said the RITM needs to be improved to boost its capability to prevent outbreaks.