By Vanne Elaine Terrazola and Genalyn Kabiling
The powerful Commission on Appointments (CA) voted to reject Tuesday the ad interim appointment of Health Secretary Paulyn Jean Ubial, a decision that the CA said was “difficult to make.”
Following a three-hour hearing and an executive session, Senator Gregorio Honasan, chair of the CA committee on health, said at least 13 members voted not to confirm Ubial’s appointment as DOH secretary. He said it was a “difficult decision” to “withhold its consent to the ad interim appointment” of Ubial.
Ubial was not present during the CA plenary session and reportedly left the Senate premises. But Ubial, in an interview before the announcement, said she would accept the CA decision whether it is in her favor or not.
Malacañang expressed regret over the CA’s rejection of Ubial as DOH secretary and extended the government’s gratitude to Ubial for her service to the nation and wished her well in her future endeavors.
“We are deeply grateful for Sec. Ubial’s service to the Health Department and for epitomizing the President’s malasakit through her ‘All for Health, towards Health for All’ Philippine Health Agenda,” Presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella said.
Ubial became the fifth Duterte appointee to be rejected by the powerful CA. Earlier, the CA rejected the appointments of Agrarian Reform Secretary Rafael Mariano, Social Welfare Secretary Judy Taguiwalo, Environment Secretary Gina Lopez, and Foreign Affairs Secretary Perfecto Yasay.
Before being appointed by President Duterte last year, Ubial has served more than 20 years in the DOH. She rose from the rank of a medical specialist in 1991, to being an assistant secretary of the DOH in 2008 until July, 2016.
Honasan, however, said Ubial’s achievements were “apparently” outweighed by the issues raised by her four oppositors.
In the three CA deliberations last May 17, October 3, and on Tuesday, Ubial was grilled over her supposed involvement in corruption and other irregularities not only in the DOH but also in the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth) where she, as DOH secretary, sat as chairman of the board of directors.
Kabayan party-list Rep. Harry Roque, Dr. Potenciano Malvar and lawyer Restituto Mendoza, in previous hearings accused Ubial of corruption and incompetence.
Filing a separate opposition Tuesday was Fe Francisco, a PhilHealth employee, who, during the latest hearing claimed she represents the 150 employees of PhilHealth to express their “strong opposition” to Ubial’s confirmation.
Francisco said Ubial abused her authority and violated the rights of employees when she supposedly suspended their allowance and salary adjustment without notice. She also claimed that Ubial was not authorized to sign documents and resolutions in behalf of the PhilHealth board.
Ubial, in response, said she was only following the Commission on Audit (COA)’s notice of disallowance on the unauthorized allowances and benefits given to PhilHealth officials and employees.
“It pains the board and chairman of the board to remove your compensation and allowances, but we have to follow the law,” she told the CA panel.
She added that she was only signing “policy-determining and discretionary” documents for the PhilHealth Board as the top PhilHealth positions, including its president and chief executive officer (CEO), were occupied by officers-in-charge.
Former PhilHealth Pres. and CEO, Dr. Hildegardes Dineros, also surfaced Tuesday and said Ubial had lied before the CA in saying he resigned from the PhilHealth last April. Dineros said Ubial “asserted (her) personal agenda” and moved to oust him from his post.
Ubial denied Dineros’ accusation and said the latter volunteered to resign. Citing their supposed minutes of the meeting, Ubial said she asked Dineros thrice if his decision was final.
Occidental Mindoro Representative Josephine Ramirez Sato also grilled Ubial over the PhilHealth board’s appointment of OICs when, as stated by law, only the President of the Republic of the Philippines can appoint PhilHealth officials.
Ubial explained this had been the practice by the PhilHealth board pending President Duterte’s official appointment of officials. She added that they have submitted their recommendation of PhilHealth OIC Dr. Celestina Ma. Jude P. De la Serna, but the President has yet to decide on it.
Sato, however, did not accept Ubial’s explanations and chided her for her “anomalous practice” and “disrespect” of the President’s authority.
Sato also questioned Ubial’s supposed order to suspend the implementation of the school-based dengue immunization programs, bringing about an increase in the number of deaths due to dengue.
She said Ubial hired a panel of doctors who were not experts on infectious disease and vaccines.
Ubial, in her defense, said the DOH did not stop and continued the implementation of the program in Regions 3, 4A, 7 and the National Capital Region.
The Occidental Mindoro congresswoman also criticized Ubial’s order to allow nurses and midwives to perform post-abortion management and care, when, she said, some have admitted that the practice was beyond their competence. Sato said she received reports that nurses and midwives sought Ubial to repeal the order, but refused.
“We don’t make arbitrary decision in the DOH. I did not say I will decide based on my confirmation,” Ubial responded. “The policy has already been amended. Only those who are trained, and are capable, and not any nurse and midwife. They should undergo training, monitoring, evaluation…We don’t impose on health workers if it’s beyond their conscience or belief,” she added.
Quezon City 6th District Rep. Sandy Ocampo, on the other hand, expressed support for Ubial during the CA hearing.
“She enjoys the support of the President…She’s 29 years in the department, the only nominee that has come from the ranks. I think she deserves our vote,” Ocampo said.
A teary-eyed Ubial came out of the hearing as she hugged her supporters.
Minutes after Ubial’s rejection, the “DOH Sec” landed on the fifth spot on the list of trending topics on Twitter, while social media users had various reactions on her rejection.
Many expressed sadness over the rejection of Ubial, including Sen. Joseph Victor “JV” Ejercito.
“I am biased for career individuals who have already given many years of service to the gov’t. Sad that Sec. Ubial was rejected by the CA,” the politician tweeted using his verified Twitter account, @jvejercito
“It was expected but still shocking for politicians to reject appointment of Ubial as Secretary of Health. She is the best that we can have,” wrote Twitter user @monsplp.
“CA rejected Gina Lopez, Ma’am Judy Taguiwalo, Ka Paeng Mariano and now, Dra. Paulyn Ubial. And we have Mocha Uson as ASec? Get outta here,” said @thegiogeorge.
“She was very supportive of HIV/AIDS campaign in DOH,” @vinceliban stated with a sad face.
Some, on the other hand, approved of the decision of the CA.
“DOH deserves a far better head,” wrote F. Tree Hugger.
“For once, I agree with CA. Good riddance!” said FB user J. Capistrano.
“Good. So many competent than Ubial. She is intelligent but her approach to health care and governance in the ground is not effective. They need someone brilliant but strong person to implement properly,” M. Paredes stated.
While some wondered about the next head of the Department of Health (DOH).
“With Ubial’s rejection by the CA, I wonder who becomes the next health secretary,” @mockingjason tweeted. (With a report from Charina L. Echaluce)