Sotto says Duque ‘deceiving’ Duterte on PhilHealth ‘anomalies’; insists health secretary is accountable as board chairman

Health Secretary Francisco Duque III has been "deceiving" President Duterte and the people for insisting he had no hand in the irregularities in the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth), Senate President Vicente Sotto III said on Wednesday.

Sotto issued the statement as he maintained that Duque should be accountable for the mess in the PhilHealth, specifically in the state insurer's assailed cash advances under the Interim Reimbursement Mechanism (IRM).

Sen. Vicente Sotto III (Senate of the Philippines / MANILA BULLETIN FILE PHOTO)

He also hit the Health Secretary's "showmanship" after telling the Chief Executive that he could not sleep because of the allegations.

Duque had lamented his inclusion in the officials to be charged over the IRM releases as recommended by the Senate, which investigated last month the claims of the rampant corruption and anomalies in the agency.

On Monday, he told President Duterte that he could not accept his inclusion since he is a non-voting chairman of the PhilHealth Board of Directors, while the Senate supposedly spared the officials who signed the questioned transactions.

"Hindi naman talaga siya dapat pumirma (He should not really sign documents). Tignan mo doon lang (You see, with that point), he is deceiving the President and the people. Wala naman nakalagay sa batas na dapat siya pumirma (Nothing in the law says that he should sign documents in the PhilHealth)," Sotto said in an interview over radio DZXL.

What was explicit in existing laws, he pointed out, is the PhilHealth board "governs" the corporation's operations.

"When you say govern, ang nasa batas, ang nakalagay na salita ay govern. Maliwanag iyan (It was clear)," Sotto said.

Sotto referred to the Republic Act No. 7875 which created the PhilHealth said that it shall be governed by a Board of Directors. Under the law, the use, disposition, investment, disbursement of the national health insurance funds shall be governed by a resolution from PhilHealth board.

The later Universal Health Care Act likewise assigned the health secretary as the board's ex-officio chairperson.

A May, 2018 PhilHealth board resolution obtained from the agency's website also states that the Board of Directors is "primarily responsible for the governance of PhilHealth, and in charge of setting policy direction and monitoring and implementation" of the corporation's programs.

Sotto also noted Duque's supposed apathy for the PhilHealth despite the string of corruption allegations hurled against its officials.

"Kung hindi ka involved, magagalit ka (If you are not involved, you would get angry). Pagagalitan mo, at ikaw mismo ang magsasabi na 'Mga lintek kayo, pa iimbestigahan ko kayo, dapat sa inyo makulong' (You would have scolded them, and tell them that you will have them investigated or send to jails). May narinig ka ba kay Sec. Duque na nagagalit doon sa mga tauhan niya sa PhilHealth (Did you hear Sec. Duque get angry with his men in the PhilHealth)?" he raised.

"Hindi niya masabi 'yon, bakit (He could not even say those, why)? Involved siya (Because he was involved)," he added.

The Senate earlier flagged as "improper and illegal" the PhilHealth's release of over P14 billion under the IRM.

Sotto believed that Duterte was just giving Duque the benefit of the doubt in telling the latter not to resign despite the controversies. He repeated his appeal for Duterte to read the Senate's recommendations, which he said might convince his view of Duque.

"Basta’t neutral ang Presidente ng thinking diyan at 'wag lang makikinig doon sa kung anu-ano ang mga showmanship na kwento nila at mga paiyak-iyak nila (As long as Duterte is neutral and not easily be swayed by whatever showmanship and drama of theirs)," he said, taking a swipe at Duque.