Who will be Ona's successor?
MANILA, Philippines – Malacañang on Saturday, December 20, said President Benigno Aquino III has yet to decide on who will succeed Enrique Ona after his resignation as health secretary.
"The President has not yet decided on who to appoint [as] the successor to Secretary Ike Ona, so ang mangyayari status quo muna tayo ngayon (so what will happen is, we will maintain the status quo for now)," Presidential Spokesperson Edwin Lacierda said in a radio interview Saturday.
Undersecretary Janette Garin will continue as acting secretary until Aquino announces a permanent appointment.
According to Rappler sources, there are about 5 candidates being considered for the vacated post. Among them are former health secretaries and a former classmate of the President, some of whom had already been interviewed. This indicates that Garin is not a shoo-in for the post of health secretary.
Garin, according to Palace insiders, had ruffled the feathers of some Liberal Party (LP) members who had heard about her proclaiming to the DOH, that she was going to be the next health secretary and that she had the support of the party. LP officials denied this, with some of them communicating directly with Ona, telling him this was not true.
Afterwards, Garin denied she said anything about being health secretary, or that it was a party decision. But LP members said they had heard otherwise. The incident indicates how politicized the issue of appointment has become. Garin, who was a former Representative of the 1st district of Iloilo in 2004 – the same time that Aquino was congressman of Tarlac – was eyed by the LP as among its leaders in the Western Visayas region.
She had said that if Ona is kept as health secretary she would resign. She tried to reorganize the department when Ona was on leave and decried what she described as "character assassination" while working in the DOH. She was also at the forefront of the campaign for the passage of the RH bill, which had the backing of the Aquino administration.
Ona himself has been criticized for his management of the department. He does not see eye-to-eye with the President who prefers a preventive approach to health. A former executive director of the National Kidney Transplant Institute – he held the post for over a decade – Ona has a bias for curative or hospital care.
Prior to his resignation, Ona was asked by Aquino to go on leave in October following a probe by the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) into complaints his department did not purchase "more cost-effective" vaccines for pneumonia.
The President said earlier his satisfaction with Ona's performance would depend on his explanation, but after Ona submitted 3 thick volumes explaining decisions made on several issues including the procurement of vaccines, Aquino still appeared dissatisfied.
“They went to PCV13, so one must assume that there was a legitimate reason to go from 10 to 13. Now, what became controversial was the succeeding year, they went from 13 back to 10,” Aquino said.
The President said at least two investigations of 3 or 4 other issues have been completed by the NBI aside from the vaccines, although he refused to specify what these issues were. The results of the probe have yet to be made public and it is unclear whether recommendations would include the filing of charges, if warranted.
Aside from the NBI probe, Ona was also criticized for ordering in September the clinical trials of controversial anti-dengue treatment ActRx TriAct. The drug is not yet registered with the Food and Drug Administration as food, drug, or supplement.
Ona submitted his resignation letter to Malacañang early this week, which the President accepted on Friday, December 19.
Aquino has yet to finish assessing Ona’s explanation on the controversial purchase of anti-pneumonia vaccines in 2012, but Lacierda said the President already “deemed it best” to accept his (Ona's) courtesy resignation.
“Since Secretary Ike Ona...wrote a letter to the President about his courtesy resignation, the President deemed it best to accept the resignation,” Lacierda said. He, however, could not provide more details on the contents of the resignation letter, and the reason why Aquino accepted the resignation.
"Hindi natin alam ang context kasi ng resignation letter eh (We don't know the context of this resignation letter), so it’s a matter between the President and Secretary Ike Ona," Lacierda explained.
“Rest assured to our Filipino citizens that the work in the Department of Health – the ongoing projects – will continue. That's ongoing. Acting Secretary Janette Garin has been tasked to oversee all the ongoing projects and the operations of the Department of Health,” Lacierda said in a mix of English and Filipino. – Rappler.com