Senate to probe PhilHealth’s alleged widespread corruption

Published July 24, 2020, 12:16 PM

by Mario Casayuran and Vanne Elaine Terrazola

Senate leaders have agreed to conduct an in-depth inquiry into the alleged widespread corruption at the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth) that prompted a ranking PhilHealth officer to resign in disgust.

‘’I am now drafting a resolution calling for a Senate Committee of the Whole inquiry. As expressed by SP (Senate President Vicente C.)  Sotto (III) to me last night, this inquiry will be one of the Senate’s top agenda after our session resumes on Monday (July 27),’’ Senator Panfilo M. Lacson, chairman of the Senate National Defense and Security Committee, told Senate reporters on Friday.

Senator Panfilo M. Lacson (SENATE OF THE PHILIPPINES / MANILA BULLETIN FILE PHOTO)

Senate President Vicente Sotto III said there should be a “full-blown” Senate investigation on the new controversy hounding the Philhealth.

“Allegations and denials abound, therefore, diligence is necessary. Where there is smoke, there is fire!” Sotto said in a text message on Friday.

Senator Joel Villanueva said: “We cannot ignore the stench of corruption especially during the pandemic.”

“If the allegations are true, this is an unconscionable betrayal of the public trust. I support any move to investigate Philhealth,” he tweeted.

Senator Juan Edgardo “Sonny” Angara also said the Senate could revive its legislative probe last year to again look into the finances of Philhealth.

“A big chunk of taxpayer money goes to Philhealth every year to be directed for the people’s health and the implementation of Universal Health Care. As it is, funds are hardly sufficient and corruption would make this worse and is really criminal,” he said. 

Aside from the corruption allegations, Senator Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III said he also wants a review of the entire Philhealth system to address issues on its funds, among others.

“Why do funds deplete so fast? And why are there at the same time so many complaints from hospitals that they are not being reimbursed promptly. And many more questions,” Angara said in a separate message.

Thorsson Montes Keith, PhilHealth anti- fraud officer, recently resigned citing ‘’widespread corruption’’ in the state agency. His resignation reportedly becomes effective at the end of August.

Keith’s resignation letter was addressed to retired Brig. Gen. Ricardo C. Morales, PhilHealth president and chief executive officer (CEO).

Philhealth officers dared Keith to submit his evidence to any investigating agency to support his allegations.

They said a Commission on Audit (COA) report at the end of 2019 stated that PhilHealth is financially healthy with a reserve of P130 billion.

Expressing his fears on the questionable financial health of the agency on its own records, Lacson said insiders themselves see PhilHealth going bankrupt in 2022.  

PhilHealth already spent P40 billion for expenditures related to COVID-19 this year, he noted.

Here are excerpts of Lacson’s Viber message to Senate reporters:

‘’Yes, SP Sotto and I and some senators from the majority bloc have been discussing the unabated corruption and mismanagement of Philhealth funds for quite sometime now. 

‘’The shouting match in a recent virtual conference between the PHIC president and some board members involving almost P1B worth of questionable transactions including a total overprice of P98M says it all.

‘’The (coronavirus disease (Covid-19) crisis makes it more disgusting and abominable. Needless to say, there is urgency that the Senate has to act on the matter immediately.’’

Lacson estimated that PhilHealth’s questionable expenditures would reach P1 billion, including ‘’P98 million, plus P132 million.’’

Lacson said a breakdown from PhilHealth internal audit report showed that there is an overprice for an item for P98 million.

‘’Nakakasuka ng sobra,’’ he added. (The level of corruption is too much. I could puke,’’ he added.

In a DZBB radio interview on Friday morning, Lacson said Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri had asked him to deliver a speech on the Senate floor on the reported widespread corruption at PhilHealth.

Because Congress was then being overwhelmed by the COVID-19 crisis, Lacson had asked for the gathering of more facts or pieces of evidence before making a speech.

Lacson said he and his colleagues in the Senate had high hopes for PhilHealth when Morales took over the agency last year but latest developments left them asking what is wrong at PhilHealth.

‘’Lahat kami, ako mismo nag-express, napakataas ng aming expectations at pag-asa na mababago. Pero sad to say, patuloy pa rin. Sabi nga ng kasamahan ko, unabated na, parang naging kultura sa PhilHealth,’’  he said. (We all expressed our high expectations with the entry of Morales. But sad to say, ‘corruption’ continues. My colleagues said the culture (of corruption) continues unabated, as if it has become a culture at PhilHealth).

‘’So something must be really very wrong na kailangan tingnan uli ng Senado bilang mga policy makers kasi kami nagpatupad ng UHC (Universal Health Care). Kongreso nagpasa niyan at meron kaming oversight function, mandato namin yan,’’ he added. (As policy makers also overseeing the UHC law, senators should look into the PhilHealth situation. Congress had passéd the UHC law. We have oversight functions.)

Lacson emphasized that lawmakers’ roles are limited. The implementation of laws is done by the Executive branch.

He recalled that he and13 other senators have signed a recommendation asking Department of Health (DOH) Secretary Francisco Duque III to resign because of conflict of interest based on Senate public hearings.

He said Duque had family-owned Doctors Pharmaceuticals that has a contract with PhilHealth.

‘’Tapos ang building nila sa Dagupan, property nila, PhiHealth nagrerenta. Ano ba naman yan?’’ he asked. (Then, the Duque family has a property in Dagupan (city which is being leased by PhilHealth. Why?)

 
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