Palace: Ona didn’t quit, only extends leave

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Saturday, 29 November 2014 - Last Updated on March 18, 2015

Malacanang denied on Friday that Health Secretary Enrique Ona has resigned over the controversial purchase of an anti-pneumonia vaccine, saying he only extended his month-long leave of absence.

Deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said the President has yet to study Ona’s report on the health department’s purchase of Pneumococcal Conjugate Vaccine 10 instead of the reportedly more cost-effective PCV-13.

“My understanding is that Secretary Ona has already submitted the report that was required of him by President Aquino, and that Secretary Ona is extending his leave of absence to afford the President time to assess the contents of the report that he submitted,” Valte said in a report.

Valte also denied that Ona has offered his resignation to President Aquino. But a Philippine Daily Inquirer (PDI) source said Ona offered his resignation letter but was turned down by the President.

“I checked for any documentation relative to a resignation and there’s none. I had the opportunity to speak with Secretary Ona and he said that he did not submit any resignation,” she said.

According to Valte, Ona’s leave extension was upon the advice of Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa Jr. supposedly to have time to assess the report.

On Nov. 3, President Aquino asked Ona to reassess the country’s immunization program, prompting the health secretary to go on leave.

A week later, the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) a probe into the Department of Health’s purchase of the expensive vaccine. The DOJ said Ona and Assistant Health Secretary Eric Tayag will be summoned as part of the investigation.

Prior to the vaccine controversy, Ona has asked for P600-million additional funding for the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM).

Meanwhile Philippine College of Physicians (PCP) president Dr. Tony Leachon said the President should fast-track his assessment of the controversies surrounding Ona, saying the DOH is the lead agency in the preparations for the Ebola virus.

Leachon however noted that Ona has contributions to government’s health reforms including the passage of the Reproductive Health and Sin Tax laws.

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