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Sotto weaponizes budget

We find their justifications very filthy. Do they think we are not reading the PhilHealth Law? We know that the ex-officio chairman is not a voting member.

Hananeel Bordey

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Senate President Vicente Sotto III on Wednesday vowed to tighten the noose on the government agencies which will disregard the Chamber’s report on the irregularities it found had transpired in the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth).

The legislators’ “power of the purse” will become the Senate’s primary weapon in forcing the agencies to do their work in pinning down the PhilHealth officials it discovered to have figured in the anomalies now hounding the state health insurer.

“This will be difficult for them,” Sotto said.

“We have many ways (to compel the agencies to follow the Senate’s recommendations). There’s always the budget. If they don’t act on it, we’ll neglect their budget,” he added.

Pressed to name which agencies will be subjected to the tougher budget deliberations, Sotto only said “all those who will not follow the Senate report.”

The Senate chief also expressed confidence that lawmakers from both the majority and minority blocs are united in this issue.

“We have ongoing talks among the senators but these are not yet final and I don’t want to telegraph these. We will put it first in a perspective that is fair,” he stated.

Sotto said the concerned government agencies cannot turn a blind eye to the Senate report — an official record that was unanimously approved in the plenary.

The report that was also sent to the Task Force led by the Department of Justice (DoJ) recommended malversation and graft charges against Health Secretary Francisco Duque III, resigned PhilHealth president and CEO Ricardo Morales, executive vice president and COO Arnel de Jesus, senior vice presidents Renato Limsiaco and Israel Pargas over the “improper and illegal implementation” of Interim Reimbursement Mechanism (IRM).

However, the Task Force did not implicate Duque among those liable in the fund releases through IRM and the anomalous IT project.

Sotto reiterated his disappointment over the non-inclusion of Duque in the list of officials that should be charged.

“I am sorry to say that we find their justifications very filthy. Do they think we are not reading the PhilHealth Law? We know that the ex-officio chairman is not a voting member,” he said.

“Are they saying that the Zoom meeting attended by Duque where there was a bull session among the executive committee members and the board members, was nothing? He (was) there. There is an evidence that he attended the meeting,” he reiterated.

Sotto insisted that Duque is liable under Article 217 of the Revised Penal Code for negligence on the fund releases through the IRM.

“The one who was speaking for the DoJ did not give good justification. The negligence is there. There is abandonment, negligence on the part of the Secretary of Health. You are the chairman of the board, the PhilHealth board governs the PhilHealth.,” Sotto said.

Aside from the DoJ, the Ombudsman was asked by the Senate in its report to file the charges the lawmakers recommended against Duque and the PhilHealth officials.

There were also recommendations made by the Senate for the Commission on Audit, Governance Commission for GOCC and Anti-Money Laundering Council to follow to prevent irregularities in PhilHealth.

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