Deafening silence on PhilHealth issue

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    ‘…we think it is incumbent upon
    Sen. Risa Hontiveros, who served as PhilHealth board member during the P-Noy Aquino administration, to say something, too, on what Sen. Recto noted as the systemic problem of corruption in the agency.’

    SENATE President Vicente “Tito” Sotto III has some very relevant observations about how officials of the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth) have been behaving in the face of the ongoing investigation by the Senate Committee of the Whole on the controversies besetting the state health insurer.

    Initially, Sotto is wondering why Secretary Francisco Duque III, chairman of PhilHealth, has been uncharacteristically silent on the issue of corruption in the agency that he heads. He has allowed PhilHealth president and CEO Ricardo Morales to take the heat, so to speak, even as the cancer-stricken former general was physically weak due to his cancer and chemotherapy procedures.

    The Senate president knows the secretary of health as a man of clear and concise words, with the propensity to explain in detail even technical and scientific information about diseases, how they start in the body, how they progress, and how they are treated. Duque also attends Senate investigations and is unfazed with grilling, intense or whatever. He has been in government too long that he knows the ins and outs of the civil service. He was one-time chairman of the Civil Service Commission, remember?

    So now Sotto expects Duque to at least open his mouth and say something about the problems of corruption, mismanagement, etc. in the agency where he sits as chairman. No talkies.

    “He is definitely silent. I don’t know. Has he issued any statements? Wala (None)? Then it’s quite interesting na bakit wala siyang comment (that he has no comment),” the Senate leader said in an online interview with reporters.

    The Senate Committee of the Whole has been investigating the alleged “widespread corruption” in the PhilHealth, which included the reported overpricing in the purchase of information and communication technology project, questioned reimbursements to select non-COVID-19 hospitals, and alleged mismanagement of the state insurer’s fund by its officials. If we go back a few months, it can be recalled that the president and CEO of PhilHealth was replaced by Morales exactly because of endemic graft and corruption in that agency. It was the issue of financial scandal involving a dialysis center exactly a year ago, and President Duterte would have wanted Morales to make a better job of it. A colleague in the Philippine Military Academy (PMA), Sen. Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa, asked General Morales point-blank: “Did you fail the President?”

    Sotto, who chairs the investigating committee, said Secretary Duque is free to participate in the inquiry if he wishes to share his views or talk about certain goings-on at PhilHealth that involved quarrels among its top officials. Quarrels over money?, we dare to ask. This question comes to mind because the PhilHealth official in charge of cleansing the agency of grafters, Atty. Thorrson Montes Keith, has resigned and turned whistleblower. He alleged that PhilHealth bought an overpriced P2-billion IT system, and lost money to grafters in the amount of P241 billion in the last few months.

    Inasmuch as the Senate is investigating, we think it is incumbent upon Sen. Risa Hontiveros, who served as PhilHealth board member during the P-Noy Aquino administration, to say something, too, on what Sen. Recto noted as the systemic problem of corruption in the agency. After all, she has been there and surely she encountered the same problems besetting the office for years now.

    Hontiveros and Duque should speak up; the people would like to hear your voices.