Senators ‘unconvinced’ Duque should be spared from accountability in Philhealth ‘anomalies’

Despite his explanations in the recent Senate hearing, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III seemed to have failed in convincing senators that he should be spared from the alleged irregularities in the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth).

Senator Grace Poe (Office of Sen. Grace Poe / MANILA BULLETIN)

"It's hard to believe that he doesn't know anything that's going on around when it comes to corruption. He's been there for long," Senator Grace Poe said in an interview with ABS-CBN News Channel on Thursday, August 20.

Poe maintained that while Duque was not directly liable for the day-to-day operations of the PhilHealth, "but with command responsibility, as the leader, he should know at least what's happening."

The Department of Health (DOH) Secretary concurrently chairs the state insurer's Board of Directors, which governs, among others, the management of the country's health insurance funds.

During the Senate Committee of the Whole's third hearing on the PhilHealth controveries last Tuesday, Thorrsson Keith, resigned PhilHealth anti-fraud officer, tagged Duque as the "godfather" of the so-called mafia that has allegedly been preying on the funds of the government-run corporation. He said Duque oversees the releases under the Interim Reimbursement Mechanism, which was questioned by lawmakers for alleged favoritism.

Duque denied the claim, calling it "malicious and without basis."

Poe, however, said: "The fact that he is part of PhilHealth and all of these disbursements were done , he is already liable just by command responsibility."

"The godfather doesn't necessarily the dirty work. He has henchmen to do it for him. And in the case of Sec Duque, he's been there, he knows that PhilHealth has a problem, he should really step up and find somebody who can probably clean it up or he himself can investigate. And he has not done so…And if he didn't know about it, then that just points out the fact that he is being incompetent or negligent," she added.

Senate President Vicente Sotto III, who led the legislative inquiry, shared Poe's observation.

"Usually, it's the whistleblower who should prove their accusations but because of the preponderance of circumstances and pronouncements, it's the DOH leadership that must present evidence against the accusations," Sotto said in a text message on Wednesday.

Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri also said: "It appears that Secretary Duque is either complacent or clueless about the shenanigans that are happening at Philhealth, which sadly shows his poor management style and lack of command responsibility."

Senators were convinced that their marathon hearings have shown the liability of PhilHealth officials over the reported corruption and mismanagement of the agency's funds. Sotto said he hopes to present the committee's recommendation for plenary discussion and approval by next week.

On Wednesday, they also adopted a resolution calling on President Duterte to immediately order the preventive suspension of PhilHealth top officials while investigations on the alleged anomalies are ongoing.