CA rejects Ubial as health chief

Health Secretary Paulyn Ubial attends a confirmation hearing at the Senate Tuesday.

MANILA — The Commission on Appointments (CA) rejected the appointment of Health Secretary Paulyn Ubial on Tuesday, making her the fifth member of President Duterte’s Cabinet to fail the constitutionally provided confirmation process.

Immediately after her confirmation hearing, a teary eyed Ubial had told reporters she would accept whatever decision was handed down by the CA, as if anticipating an adverse ruling from the body.

The CA committee on health headed by Sen. Gregorio Honasan said the panel was able to count 13 votes against the confirmation of Ubial during an executive session immediately after the hearing. He said they stopped after counting 13. The panel has 24 members.

“Many issues were raised, too many to mention but during the conduct of hearings, which were exhaustive, the individual and collective judgment call was made, this included the apprehensions of each member and ultimately we have to make a decision on both,” Honasan said.

Malacañang expressed “regret” for the CA’s rejection of Ubial and praised her for being an “epitome” of President Duterte’s malasakit (compassion).

Ubial went through three confirmation hearings since her appointment as health chief last year.

At the third and final confirmation hearing yesterday, the CA committee on health presented two more private individuals against Ubial’s appointment.

Former Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth) president and CEO Hildegardes Dineros claimed that Ubial lied to the CA when she told the panel he resigned from his post when he actually was ousted by the board headed by Ubial.

According to Dineros, Ubial illegally encroached on the powers of the president and CEO because the law creating PhilHealth clearly states that there should be separate chairman and president-CEO in order to ensure a balance of power and independent decision-making by the board.

PhilHealth employee Fe Francisco, who claimed to speak on behalf of the agency’s personnel, raised the same issue against Ubial.

Occidental Mindoro Rep. Josephine Ramirez Sato aired her concern about the repeated allegations of usurpation of authority being raised against Ubial.

Sato said the law states that only the President can appoint the president of PhilHealth upon the recommendation of the board.

However, she noted that the board named three acting presidents-CEOs while Ubial was at the helm. 
The move, she said, was a diminution of the powers of the President.

Kabayan party-list Rep. Harry Roque, for his part, said the government “averted a major public health disaster” with the CA’s rejection of Ubial.

“I call on President Duterte to appoint an exceptional doctor with proven managerial skills and an actual health agenda to head the DOH,” Roque said. 

In her response to the issues raised against her, Ubial reiterated that Dineros resigned as president-CEO of PhilHealth and that her fellow board members would attest to this.

Ubial said that the board submitted to the President its recommendation for his replacement but Duterte has not acted on it.

Davao Oriental Rep. Joel Mayo Almario and Manila Rep. Sandy Ocampo aired their support for Ubial’s confirmation.

Ocampo pointed out that Ubial was the only member of the Cabinet who rose from the ranks and that she deserved to be confirmed by the CA.

Almario, for his part, said that the positive feedback coming from his constituents outweigh the negative comments made against Ubial.

An emotional Ubial told CA members she was leaving her fate in their hands.

“I know that there are a lot of opposition and manifestations that are before you about my not being capable and able to be secretary of health but I stand by my commitment to the President,” Ubial said.

“He appointed me as health secretary and whatever happens today I will serve at the pleasure of the President and I thank the members of the Commission on Appointments for this opportunity given me,” she said, addressing the CA.

“Much as I want to be confirmed and serve the country and the Filipino people, I raise my intentions to your hands for your consideration,” she added.

By the time the CA convened again for its plenary session yesterday, Ubial was no longer present to hear the rejection of her appointment.

Before Ubial, the CA rejected the appointment of foreign secretary Perfecto Yasay, environment secretary Gina Lopez, social welfare secretary Judy Taguiwalo and agrarian reform secretary Rafael Mariano.

Ubial’s son Karl voiced his frustration over his mother’s rejection by the CA, saying it “has not only rejected a Cabinet official, it has rejected a career spanning 29 years.”

“My mother will walk out the hall – jobless and vacated from a career that she worked hard for from the ground up. She accepted the risk when she accepted the appointment – that the risk was higher for her because there was no job waiting for her upon her rejection, yet she fought,” Karl posted in his Twitter account @Krubial.

A University of Santo Tomas medical student, Karl stressed the CA’s rejection of his mother would not tarnish her reputation.

“Not one bit for there are no sane people who will think that false allegations make up for 29 years of good government service and reputation that has made her viable for the position,” he said.

Karl also chided Sen. Manny Pacquiao for demanding an apology from him over his online remarks on the burial of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos at the Libingan ng mga Bayani.

“Sen. Pacquiao asked me for an apology, and I will indulge him with one. I apologize for being too young and being too brash. I will not, however, apologize for doing my duty, being a citizen of this country,” Karl tweeted.

Pacquiao, at yesterday’s hearing, took Ubial to task for her son’s online post criticizing the senator’s statement on Marcos’ burial in November 2016.

Karl had shared an online article headlined, “Pacquiao says no one but God can judge ex-Pres Marcos.” His post was accompanied by a comment: “Only God can judge Marcos. Supports judgment through death penalty.”

At Malacañang, Abella said Duterte was very grateful for Ubial’s contributions despite her being criticized publicly by the President for the shortage of medical equipment in military hospitals.

“We are deeply grateful for secretary Ubial’s service to the health department and for epitomizing the President’s malasakit through her ‘All for Health, towards Health for All’ Philippine agenda,” Abella said. “We wish Sec. Ubial well in her future endeavors.”

Various health organizations have expressed sadness and disappointment over Ubial’s fate.

For Benjamin de Leon, president of the Forum for Family Planning and Development Inc., Ubial’s rejection was a sad day as she had “been a stout advocate of family planning and reproductive health.”

“We just lost someone in the person of Sec. Ubial.  Now we are back to square one. I hope replacement will be as steadfast in advocating reproductive health and family planning,” he pointed out.

“Sad to hear about the rejection. It’s a pity that health missed the person who could have led it to the right direction,” Framework Convention on Tobacco Control Alliance Philippines executive director Maricar Limpin maintained.