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Abolish or privatize

Hananeel Bordey



If he can have his way, President Rodrigo Duterte has only two options for the corruption-ridden Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth) — abolish or privatize.

Senate President Vicente Sotto III disclosed this yesterday after he, along with Senator Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go, House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano and House Majority Leader Martin Romualdez visited Malacañang Wednesday night to tackle certain measures needed to cut red tape and corruption.

“(Regarding the Universal Health Care) and PhilHealth Law, he said he wanted PhilHealth abolished or privatized,” Sotto said.

The Senate chief, however, suggested to the Chief Executive to test the operations of PhilHealth under newly-installed President and CEO Dante Gierran before making major actions to fix the state insurance firm.

Gierran replaced retired military general Ricardo Morales as PhilHealth chief weeks ago after the latter stepped down from his post due to health reasons, in the middle of congressional probes on alleged corruption in the agency.

Prior to his appointment, Gierran worked for 27 years in the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) before he became its chief, a post he retired from last February.

Cleanse the ranks
Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque, in a television interview, said the Chief Executive wants Gierran to cleanse the ranks of the state insurer until December before deciding if he would abolish or privatize the firm which has been marred by anomalies.

“The President wants to clean up PhilHealth, and that is why the deadline given to Attorney Gierran is to enable him — or a deadline to clean up the organization,” Roque said.

“File all the cases that need to be filed, suspend, terminate, whatever you need to do in order to cleanse the ranks of PhilHealth,” he added.

Sotto explained to Duterte that the PhilHealth’s background should be taken on the financial aspect as it is an insurance corporation and not a health entity.

Sotto has filed Senate Bill 1829 which seeks to install the Finance Secretary as the ex-officio chairman of the PhilHealth Board by amending Section 13 of Republic Act 11223 of the UHC Law.

“But I said it might be better to wait a few months and see how the new admin performs and that I have a bill making the Secretary of Finance the chair of the Board instead of the (Department of Health) secretary. He agreed to my proposal,” Sotto added.

Missed opportunity
But the Senate leader missed the opportunity to talk about Health Secretary Francisco Duque III with Duterte.

“I was ready to talk about it but he did not bring the name up,” Sotto said when asked if they talked about the embattled Health chief.

Duterte, in numerous public briefings, has assured Duque that he still got his trust despite calls for his resignation over his failure to lead the country’s response against COVID-19 and his negligence on the corrupt activities inside PhilHealth.

The Senate has recommended graft and malversation charges against Duque for his negligence in the implementation of the controversial Interim Reimbursement Mechanism or a cash advance mechanism that seeks to aid healthcare institutions amid fortuitous events like COVID-19.

But despite the non-mention of Duque’s status, Sotto disclosed that he was able to discuss with the president, his filed Senate Bill 1829 amending the Universal Health Care Act.

The bill proposes the appointment of the Secretary of Finance as ex-officio chairman of the PhilHealth Board replacing the DoH Secretary.

Meanwhile, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra, the convenor of Task Force PhilHealth revealed Thursday that they are planning to form few more composite teams as they dig deeper into the multi-billion mess at PhilHealth.

So far, there are two composite teams that have been created to find evidence on what really happened at the state health insurer.

Guevarra said the two operational composite teams are the IT and legal sectors team which has separate focus in the conduct of their investigation.

“Two so far, for the IT and LEGAL sectors. We may create a few more,” said Guevarra when asked if there would be more composite teams to be created given the depth of the corruption hounding the agency.

However, Guevarra did not mention how many more composite teams are needed to be created as the task force are discussing the matter as they need to prioritize.

Elmer Manuel,
MJ Blancaflor
and Alvin Murcia