During the Senate probe on the irregularities in the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth), which is the agency at the forefront of government assistance in the battle against the coronavirus disease 2019, some P15 billion was alleged to have been stashed away over the years, an amount intended for Filipinos in dire need of medical attention.
PhilHealth president and chief executive officer Ricardo Morales denied coddling an alleged syndicate that oversees corrupt practices in the agency.
Morales has a reason to deny the allegation, since the syndicate had been imbedded in the agency, which has been a favorite conduit to siphon off public funds. Department of Health (DoH) Secretary Francisco Duque III and the appointees of former President Noynoy Aquino should be those providing information about PhilHealth’s sinister past.
The Dengvaxia vaccine scam was only one of those perpetrated by the Aquino administration led by former Department of Budget Secretary Butch Abad and Noynoy’s DoH chief Janette Garin, mainly through PhilHealth funds.
It was Garin, who is now Iloilo Representative at the House, who pressed for the reintroduction of Dengvaxia, which remains the only known cure for severe dengue.
French manufacturer Sanofi Pasteur had disclosed in late 2017 that the vaccine could worsen dengue in recipients who had not previously contracted the disease. The DoH pulled the plug and linked at least 10 deaths, including children, to the vaccine.
In one of the Senate hearings on Dengvaxia, then senator JV Ejercito revealed the alleged diversion of P10.6 billion PhilHealth funds intended for the benefit of senior citizens in 2015 to a DoH project to set up rural health units. At that time, Garin was also the PhilHealth chairman.
What was noticeable then was that the diversion of the P10.6 billion funds and the frantic effort to push the Dengvaxia deal proceeded in parallel.
Ejercito said based on his findings, the allotment supposedly for benefits of the elderly was diverted to the health facilities enhancement program that included the setting up of rural health units.
The PhilHealth funds for senior citizens and the Dengvaxia purchase were then sourced from Miscellaneous and Personnel Benefit Fund.
The senator then noted that the transfer may have transgressed the authority of Congress on what was approved in the budget.
After an extensive inquiry, the Senate found Aquino, Abad, Garin and other Health officials criminally liable for the dengue immunization program.
Duque, for his part, was suspected of being involved in illegal campaigning during the term of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo when he was then PhilHealth president.
Public funds were allegedly spent to enroll families in PhilHealth for one year to induce the enrollees to vote for President Arroyo sometime prior to the 2004 national elections. The premium cost of P1,200 for each family member was chargeable to PhilHealth and the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office, a project that coincided with the start of the election campaigns.
The past operations apparently went smoothly as a result of what a whistleblower claimed as a mafia that handles all the schemes to plunder the pool of funds, which comes from hard-earned money of Filipino workers.
The syndicate’s existence did not start during President Duterte’s watch, and dismantling it will need probers to backtrack to discover its roots.
A simpler way to extract the truth would be to grill Duque and the yellow overlords under Aquino who took liberties with the PhilHealth funds.