The Department of Health (DoH) said Secretary Francisco T. Duque III will continue to lead the agency’s efforts against the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), despite calls for him to step down while the Ombudsman looks into alleged corruption.

In a briefing on Friday, Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario S. Vergeire said they do not see the need for Mr. Duque to step down temporarily while the investigation of the Ombudsman is ongoing. Ombudsman Samuel R. Martires ordered a probe into the alleged mishandling of funds for the DoH COVID-19 response.

Wala kami nakikitang pangangailangan siya’y magbitiw o magtemporarily tumigil sa pagtrabaho para mabigyan daan ang imbestigasyon (We don’t see the need for him to resign or for him to temporarily stop work just to give way for the investigation),” Ms. Vergeire said.

Her statement comes after Senator Sherwin T. Gatchalian said on Friday that it would be best for Mr. Duque “to take time off” so the Ombudsman can conduct an impartial investigation.

Ms. Vergeire added that the DoH has yet to receive any formal notice from the Ombudsman. If they do, she said they will cooperate.

She also commended Mr. Duque as a “leader,” adding that she and the rest of the undersecretaries are able to work well because of him.

“We have our full support of our Secretary and we think he should still be retained in his position,” she said.

Earlier this week, the Palace said that Mr. Duque still has the full confidence of President Rodrigo R. Duterte but they will respect the decision of the Ombudsman to look into issues within the Health Department if needed.

In an interview with CNN Philippines on Friday, Mr. Martires said they will be issuing subpoenas to both Mr. Duque and to Budget Secretary Wendel E. Avisado with regard to the use of funds for the COVID-19 response and the delay of the release of benefits for frontliners who died while on duty during the COVID-19 crisis.

“Today we will be issuing subpoenas to the Department of Budget and Management (and) to the Department of Health, particularly to the special allotment request order sa budget binigay ng pangulo sa namatay na frontliner, sa budget para sa (for the budget given by President to frontliners who died and for the budget for) COVID-19,” he said. — Gillian M. Cortez