President Rodrigo Duterte has vowed to devote the two remaining years in his term to cleanse the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth) of corruption and jail those involved in anomalies within the agency.
In a pre-recorded speech aired Tuesday morning, the President said he would even endorse cases to be filed by the Department of Justice (DoJ) against PhilHealth officials involved in large-scale corruption in the firm.
“PhilHealth must be investigated and all those involved must be prosecuted and jailed. If that will be my job in the remaining two years, I will do it,” he said.
“One of the things, (those) few things, that I can do in the remaining two years of my term, I will spend my time to work on the cases for people who are involved in the PhilHealth,” Duterte added.
The President did not hide his dissatisfaction on the agency which has been besieged by fresh allegations of corruption.
He even ordered the PhilHealth to publish all its procurement transactions in the newspapers — including its purchase of paper clips.
“That is in the view of the people’s gripe against PhilHealth, especially this PhilHealth, even paper clip, publish who is the bidder and supplier of paper clip. Even one. Publish it in newspaper so people can read,” Duterte said.
Meanwhile, the Senate Blue Ribbon Committwee has filed criminal charges against former Health Secretary Janette Garin, former Budget Secretary Butch Abad and former PhilHealth president and CEO Alexander Padilla over the alleged diversion of PhilHealth funds for senior citizens’ premiums to barangay health centers.
Senator Richard Gordon, who chairs the powerful panel, presented before the media the committee report on the investigation the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee conducted in 2019.
It was a probe which stemmed from the exposé of the WellMed Dialysis scam.
One of the charges that the panel has indicated for filing was plunder. However, the report did not specify which among the three would face the charge.
“The Ombudsman should conduct investigations as to the possibility of filing plunder charges against the officers responsible in PhilHealth. There is with the participation of many officers — collectively or singly — in the pillaging of PhilHealth an urgent need to determine whether or not plunder can be filed against alleged perpetrators of these crimes,” the report read.
The report also recommended the filing of violation of the Anti-Graft and Corruption Act against Garin as it included the Barangay Health Stations in its key findings during last year’s investigation.
The Gordon-led panel said that in 2015, P10.6 billion was allocated for the premiums of senior citizens and PhilHealth but these were diverted to the Department of Health’s (DoH) project during Garin’s time.
“The loss of P10.6 billion that was spent on uncompleted projects for political campaign purposes stunted PhilHealth’s financial growth. By diverting the budget, then DoH Secretary Garin and company put in disrepute the integrity of the PhilHealth fund and derailed the march to efficient and reliable health insurance in this country,” the report read.
It also noted that the Department of Budget and Management, on the last working day of public offices in 2015, released P9.39 billion which was supposed to be disbursed to PhilHealth but was given to the projects requested by Garin including P5.36 billion for Barangay Health Stations.
The report cited Commission on Audit findings on Barangay Health Stations in 2017 which found that the projects’ completion rate is all below 15 percent.
“What the Committee noticed is the parallelism between Dengvaxia and the 2015 PhilHealth Senior Citizen Fund: both were intended to siphon funds off PhilHealth to finance the 2016 elections,” the panel said in its report.
Aside from the graft charges, the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee also recommended the filing of technical malversation and violation of Section 7 (1) of Republic Act 6713 or The Code of Conduct of Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees against Garin, Abad and Padilla.
In 2018, the PhilHealth filed a graft complaint against Garin and Padilla before the Ombudsman over the P10.69 billion funds allegedly diverted for the barangay health stations.
As this developed, a commissioner from the Civil Service Commission (CSC) alleged that chairperson Alicia de la Rosa-Bala had instructed her subordinates during a board meeting to withhold information relative to cases filed against PhilHealth officials.
Anakalusugan Rep. Michael Defensor, chairperson of the Committee on Public Accounts, carried the motion of Agusan del Norte Rep. Lawrence Fortun to subpoena the audio recording and the minutes of the meeting of the CSC board meeting to investigate the claim.
The panel also carried Fortun’s another motion to cite De la Rosa-Bala in contempt.
During a House probe on Tuesday, CSC commissioner Aileen Lourdes Lizada bared that there was “guidance” from De la Rosa-Bala to suppress information on erring PhilHealth officials.
She claimed the CSC chief made the instruction during a board meeting. She said De la Rosa-Bala’s remarks were recorded but taken out of the minutes of the meeting.
Lizada recalled these were De la Rosa-Bala’s words: “Information should not be made public nor should be given out to anyone who would be asking either in aid of legislation or investigation.”
CSC Assistant Commissioner Ariel Ronquillo, however, denied that the chairperson instructed her subordinates to suppress information.
When asked if the CSC Chief directive not to divulge information has connection with Health Secretary Francisco Duque III being former CSC chief, Lizada said there is no direct evidence linking Duque to De la Rosa-Bala’s alleged orders.
What we are waiting for is for the President to do his job by firing Duque and filing charges against those involved in the P15 billion PhilHealth mess and the overpriced PPE, testing machines and kits.
“I do not have direct evidence on whether it has connection,” Lizada said.
Sources of anomalies
Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra, who was asked by President Duterte to form a special panel to probe alleged anomalies in the firm, reported that investigators are looking into the PhilHealth’s IT system, legal sector, and the controversial Interim Reimbursement Mechanism as “very ripe sources of irregularities” in the state insurer.
“And lastly also, Mr. President, on financial management. This is again, one area where we believe that many irregularities in the past were being committed,” Guevarra told the Chief Executive in a televised meeting.
He also said government agencies have been asked to expedite their respective investigations or special audits to resolve cases in PhilHealth.
Guevarra also recommended the creation of an Interim Management Committee at PhilHealth — before the Governance Commission for Government-Owned and Controlled Corporations under the Office of the President — while investigation is ongoing.
The special panel, created on 7 August, is authorized to look into PhilHealth’s finances, conduct lifestyle checks on officials and employees, and recommend preventive suspension on officials pending the probe.
Guevarra also said the task force aims to recommend structural reforms and legislations to strengthen PhilHealth.
In a separate occasion, DoJ Undersecretary and spokesman Markk Perete said two senior vice presidents of PhilHealth served as witnesses. They are Rodolfo del Rosario of legal sector and Israel Pargas of finance policy management.
Three other witnesses came forward to help the task force get the picture of corruption in the agency, Perete said.
If President Duterte is really serious in keeping the COVID-19 funds free from corruption, he should let go of Duque and charge the officials involved in the corruption allegations in PhilHealth, senators said.
“What we are waiting for is for the President to do his job by firing Duque and filing charges against those involved in the P15 billion PhilHealth mess and the overpriced PPE, testing machines and kits,” Senator Panfilo Lacson said.
On the other hand, Senate President Vicente Sotto III, Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon and Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri welcomed President Duterte’s pronouncements on PhilHealth mess.
Considering the corruption issues in PhilHealth, Drilon said everyone should keep an eye on how these funds were spent and vowed that Congress will remain “vigilant” in doing its oversight functions.
WITH ELMER MANUEL
AND HANANEEL BORDEY