Have we become so numbed with corruption in government that it has become so endemic in our society?
The latest corruption scandal rocking the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth) is but only the latest in a long line of such malfeasance that we as a people have learned to accept as part of our national life.
Despite this, we really can’t understand why our regulators and investigators have remained so inept at detecting and prosecuting it.
The crooks’ template is obvious, the approach simple: They use Information Technology (IT) projects and technology procurement to facilitate the crime.
The Senate probe revealed that PhilHealth officials procured several items like software and gadgets at a grossly overpriced rate. An Adobe Master Collection set that can be bought for P200,000 was purchased at a staggering P21 million. The extent of these illicit activities resulted in a failed implementation of a proposed P2.1 billion IT project, supposedly designed to stem fraud and scams devised by some corrupt personnel.
In one of the reports, the government auditors said many equipment that PhilHealth wanted to buy were not included in its Information Systems Strategic Plan (ISSP) for 2018 to 2020, which the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) had already approved.
The impact on the cost of an IT project, according to an analyst, is best put into perspective in terms of the toll these compromised implementations of technology have further downstream “in terms of the controls and management capability that is degraded by these resulting substandard systems.”
Saying it would serve as the backbone of a sound health security program, the agency’s health auditors justified the importance of having an integrated IT system. But despite spending billions for IT hardware and software, PhilHealth’s membership, collection and claims database remains fragmented.
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that fragmented systems and flawed IT implementation likely contributed to vulnerabilities in systems and procedures that left PhilHealth exposed to control gaps that could be exploited by its executives and insiders. Taken in perspective, the loss is at a magnitude that far exceeds what had been allegedly “stolen” from these IT initiatives.
Reports reveal that PhilHealth has lost more than P153 billion since 2013, or roughly 30 percent of the total claims payment of P512.6 billion, which the state-run health insurer made in the same period, due to fraud.
The PhilHealth mess is not too different from that of the Commission on Elections (Comelec) in the run up to the national elections four years ago. Remember insinuations of cozy relationships between Comelec officials and their preferred technology vendor, Smartmatic?
Loose and fragmented control measures, as well as problematic implementation of technology solutions at the Comelec, were also likely behind anomalous and, possibly, even fraudulent conduct in the 2016 polls.
In the midst of accounting for election results back then, breaches in procedure and data and system handling protocols were reported including one where a Smartmatic technician “inserted a new program at 7.30 p.m. of Election Day while the system was in the middle of canvassing the votes.”
To a large extent this put the integrity of the entire 2016 elections to question — yet another case of how the crooked activities of a public agency result in far bigger impacts that affect millions of Filipino lives.
We have reasons to be outraged, of course. Both scandals seem to have been part of a vast conspiracy where Filipinos have been defrauded of their health and their vote.
Looking back now, is it a coincidence that both scandals started in the previous administration and have been tolerated to favor one party and its allies?
With less than two years to go, the Duterte administration may be running out of time to put the perpetrators of these heinous crimes behind bars. But it’s never too late if we want to put a stop to the kleptomaniacs and conspirators in our midst.