PRESIDENT Duterte is devoting his remaining two years in office to investigations, prosecution, and imprisonment of officials and personnel of the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth) who are involved in corruption and other irregularities in the agency.
The President, in a recorded address aired yesterday, said he would personally endorse charges to be filed against PhilHealth officials and personnel.
“Iyong PhilHealth ang dapat imbestigahan at dapat i-prosecute lahat at dapat ikulong…One of the things that… I can do in the remaining two years of my term. Uubusin ko ito iyung panahon ko to work on the cases for people who are involved in the PhilHealth (PhilHealth should be investigated, prosecuted and jailed…One of the things that… I can do in the remaining two years of my term, I can exhaust my time to work on the cases for people who are involved in the PhilHealth),” he said.
Several PhilHealth officials have gone on leave or have been suspended pending investigations into allegations that billions in funds are being lost to fraud and corruption, including P15 billion through fraudulent schemes committed by an alleged mafia in the agency, overpricing of IT equipment and COVID-19 test kits, and “ghost” claims.
The President earlier this month formed a task force, led by the Department of Justice, to investigate the allegations.
The task force was given 30 days to complete its probe and submit its recommendations.
Duterte, in the address, said he would wait for Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra to complete his investigations, and his signature on the endorsement of charges “will be accompanied by my signature.”
Guevarra, during a Cabinet meeting convened by Duterte in Davao City on Monday night, said the task force has identified PhilHealth’s information technology system, interim reimbursement mechanism (IRM) for hospital payments, financial system, and legal management sectors as the “‘centers of fraud” in the agency.
He said further investigations are being done in these areas but initial findings showed that the information technology system of PhilHealth was fragmented and “can easily be manipulated because there is no centralized control over the management information system.”
He did not discuss the three other areas except to say that further investigations are being done and that the task force “believes that many irregularities in the past were being committed” in those sectors.
Menardo said lifestyle checks are also being conducted on some PhilHealth officials “so that we can relate, we can connect the irregularities that we uncover during the investigation with the lifestyle of these people.”
“So there might be a reinforcing effect if we see that these guys are probably involved in this particular irregularity. They’re making money and it’s being shown in their lifestyle,” he added.
Guevarra said the task force also is looking at completing its probe soon and eventually file cases with the Office of the Ombudsman.
He said the task force will also try to make use of reports and findings of the Senate and the House of Representatives in its filing legal action.
Guevarra said the task force is also looking at recommending some structural reforms to strengthen PhilHealth.
He said the task force has been coordinating with the Governance Commission for Government Owned and Controlled Corporations for the possible creation of an interim management committee for PhilHealth, which he hopes the President would endorse.
“We’re hoping that in this regard… the Governance Commission for Government-Owned and Controlled Corporations, which is under the Office of the President… will be able to make proposals for the reorganization, whether partial or total of PhilHealth,” he said.
Sen. Francis Pangilinan said he will believe President Duterte is serious in ridding PhilHealth of corruption if he will kick out Health Secretary Francisco Duque III, chairman of the PhilHealth board.
Duque has been tagged by Thorrson Montes Keith, resigned anti-fraud legal officer, as the “godfather” of the PhilHealth mafia. The health secretary has denied the allegation.
Pangilinan said the President must show sincerity in ridding PhilHealth of corruption, otherwise it will be just like the President’s unfulfilled campaign promises, including solving the country’s drug problems in three to six months and riding a jet ski to assert the country’s claims in the West Philippine Sea.
“Kapag tinanggal si Duque, doon lang ako maniniwala na seryoso siya sa pagtugon sa P15 billion na ninakaw na pera ng bayan sa PhilHealth. At habang nandiyan si Duque, mahirap maniwala na seryoso ang Pangulo sa pagsugpo sa kurakot (The only time that I will believe that the President is serious in his response of the P15 billion stolen from PhilHealth is he will fire Duque. Otherwise, it is hard to believe that the President is serious when Duque is still around),” Pangilinan 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, the overpriced PPE (personal protective equipment), and testing machines and kits,” he added.
Fourteen senators are calling for Duque’s resignation as health secretary for his alleged failed response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The President, however, rejected the call.
Senate minority leader Franklin Drilon said the President Duterte should make good on his promise to punish corrupt PhilHealth personnel. – With Raymond Africa