Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman cited Friday alternative sources of funds that the government may tap to fund PhilHealth and the campaign against COVID-19 and pay veterans' benefit instead of selling the Philippines' precious war reparation assets in Japan.
Lagman, in his interpellation of the Department of Foreign Affairs’ (DFA) proposed budget for 2021, disclosed that funds from this potential sale would be used to, first, prevent the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth) from getting bankrupt; second, bankroll the government’s continuing battle against the COVID-19 pandemic; and third, help defray payment of Filipino veterans’ benefits.
“Why should we raise funds for the graft-ridden PhilHealth by selling prime and historic properties in Japan when we can support the PhilHealth from domestic or local sources? Why don’t we recover for instance, from the grafters? The billions they have stolen from the coffers of PhilHealth?” Lagman asked the budget sponsor Albay Rep. Joey Salceda.
The interpellator was referring to the alleged fraudulent schemes over at the State-run health insurer that led to the theft of some P15 billion worth of public funds. The House of Representatives, through the Committee on Public Accounts, conducted an investigation of the alleged PhilHealth mafia but it has yet to release its committee report.
“Anyway, the NEP (National Expenditure Program) as well as the GAB (General Appropriations Bill) allocate P71.353 billion for PhilHealth,” Lagman said.
The former House Minority Leader also questioned why the current public health emergency was being mentioned in the proposed sale of the Japan assets “when we already secured as of August a total of $8.82 billion and another P1.8 trillion in domestic borrowings to beef up our war chest against the pandemic.”
Lagman added: “Why do have to sell the country’s real estate properties in Japan to pay for our veterans’ pension benefits when we can secure the funds from domestic sources? Under the GAB for 2021, the amount of P10.8 billion is allocated for veterans under the lump sum called “pension and gratuity.’”
“If necessary, the government must sell the military golf courses in Camp Gen. Aguinaldo, Villamor Airbase, and the Veterans Memorial Medical Center which can fetch no less than P150 billion in order to help defray the pension benefits for our veterans,” he added.
The Philippine government acquired four properties in Tokyo and Kobe under the war reparation agreement with Japan dated May 9, 1956. These are the Roppongi property, Kobe commercial property, Kobe residential property, and Nampeidai property.
Japanese imperial forces occupied the country during World War II.
Salceda said that while he agreed with the necessity to put up money for the purposes cited by Lagman, he said that he “doesn’t agree with the means (proposed sale of Japan assets).”
The sponsor concurred with his province-mate Lagman that the real properties in Tokyo and Kobe “are perpetual memorials to the heroism and sacrifices of Filipinos soldiers, guerillas, veterans, and even ordinary citizens who courageously fought against the brutal Japanese occupation forces.”
The passage came from a prior Supreme Court (SC) decision on the matter, Lagman said.
“The (SC) further ruled and I quote, ‘Roppongi, just like the other Philippine properties in Japan, is no ordinary property. It is one ceded by the Japanese government in atonement for its past belligerence, for the…sacrifice of life and limb, and for deaths, physical dislocation, and economic devastation the whole Filipino people suffered in World War II,’” he said.
“After the overriding legal and patriotic reasons of the (SC) against the sale of the Roppongi property and the other real estate properties in Japan, there is neither rhyme nor reason for the Congress to enact a law authorizing the disposition and sale of these memorials,” said Lagman.