Garin is unfit for either the DOH or the Senate
Even with the May 2016 elections less than a year and a half away, President Benigno Aquino III has already given hints about who may likely compose his 12-man senatorial line-up. Two names have been suggested so far, and one of them is Acting Secretary Janette Loreto-Garin of the Department of Health (DOH). Good grief!
Acting Secretary Garin is not qualified for a seat in the Senate. Her legislative record as a representative of Iloilo is lackluster. Nobody outside of Iloilo may even be aware of her past tenure at the House of Representatives.
Garin is also unfit to head the DOH. Long before the recent resignation of DOH Secretary Enrique Ona, Garin was already being investigated by the Senate for her possible involvement in a financial anomaly in the department. As of this writing, that controversy has remained unresolved.
When Ona had to go on leave in view of the controversial acquisition by the DOH of certain vaccines, then Undersecretary Garin took over as Acting Secretary. Despite her temporary status at the helm of the DOH, Garin already began comporting herself as DOH queen. Finding a potential rival in Undersecretary Teodoro Herbosa, Garin took steps to ease him out of power. Malacañang, however, kept Herbosa, whose projects include the upgrading of several government hospitals including the National Orthopedic Hospital in Quezon City. Unlike Garin, Herbosa is not a politician. Herbosa is an academic from the UP College of Medicine and the Philippine General Hospital.
Last November, an epidemic involving the Ebola virus broke out in West Africa and Filipino peacekeepers and health workers joined the international effort to contain the disease. When the contingent returned to the Philippines that month, they had to be quarantined at Caballo Island on Manila Bay. The quarantine was in the interest of public health since the members of the contingent could be carriers of the Ebola virus, and may spread the disease in the country. In view of the quarantine, their relatives were not allowed to visit, and everyone who visits the island is required to wear protective gear.
Instead of complying with the quarantine, Garin became reckless and cavalier and visited Caballo Island without any protective gear. She brought along General Gregorio Catapang, Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines. General Catapang may have found it difficult to refuse the invitation of Garin, an alter-ego of his commander-in-chief, President Aquino. Like Garin, General Catapang went to Caballo Island without any protective gear.
Because Garin shook hands with many people at Caballo Island, the senators investigating her possible role in the anomaly at the DOH felt uneasy about her presence in the Senate. After all, even the most powerful senators may be no match to a relatively new viral infection. Despite the reservations of some senators, Garin still went to the Senate hearing, shook hands, and mingled with people there, fully aware that she may be a carrier of the Ebola virus.
Garin may not be afraid of the possibility of getting sick, but as the head of the DOH, she is expected to follow quarantine rules. Her reckless visit to Caballo Island could have created an epidemic in the Philippines. Fortunately, those who were quarantined turned out to be free from the virus and were allowed to go home. Just imagine the panic in the country if they were infected and passed on the disease to Garin! Clearly, the bravery Garin was trying to project put public health at risk. In her gamble to project herself, Garin played God. One who has no second thoughts about risking public health for a few cheap shots at publicity has no valid reason to remain in high public office.
By itself, this unforgiveable recklessness on the part of Garin should be sufficient reason to demand her immediate ouster from the DOH, and to consider her unfit for the Senate—unless the electorate has accepted the idea that grandstanding movie actors, two-bit comedians, presidential and vice presidential relatives, and other misfits belong to the Senate.
Come to think of it, Garin may have pursued the Caballo Island visit precisely to get herself in the news, in preparation for a senatorial bid in May 2016.
Just recently, Garin committed another blunder. She announced that if she were appointed DOH Secretary, she will let a council of elders manage the operations of the DOH. Obviously, Garin has not read the law. The elders council Garin has in mind is not authorized under the Administrative Code—the law governing the administrative set-up in the DOH and other line departments.
As the head of the DOH, Garin is expected to be familiar with the provisions of the Administrative Code pertaining to the DOH. Garin’s plan to let an elders council run the DOH not only shows that she is unmindful of the law, it also reveals that she did not bother to read the law which governs the public office she currently heads. Garin’s controversial visit to Caballo Island was an instance of gross inexcusable negligence. Her illegal plan for the DOH leadership shows her incompetence.
Ideally, the leadership of the DOH should not be given to a politician. The late DOH Secretary Juan Flavier may have been a senator, but he was an academic before he was appointed to the DOH. After serving in the DOH, Flavier ran for a seat in the Senate and won. Of course, his undying devotion to then President Fidel Ramos helped in his political gamble. Remember the F.I.D.E.L. salt he promoted as DOH Secretary?
The DOH is a very important line agency in the national government. Operations of public hospitals nationwide depend on how efficient the leadership in the DOH is. For the sake of the Filipino people who depend on public hospitals, President Aquino should oust Garin from the DOH. That is not enough. He must see to it that Garin does not run for the Senate.