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OFWs call for independent inquiry on PhilHealth as Duterte orders probe

07 August 2020

By The SUN

PhilHealth executives deny wrongdoing during Senate investigation

President Rodrigo Duterte has ordered the Department of Justice to form a panel to investigate allegations of massive corruption in the Philippine Health Insurance Corp and submit its findings and recommendations to his office within a month.

The move was welcomed by leaders of Filipino migrant workers in Hong Kong who have been clamoring for the scrapping of mandatory contribution to PhilHealth but expressed caution, saying an independent body should conduct the probe.

In a memorandum to Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra today, Aug 7, Duterte also ordered the department to audit PhilHealth finances and conduct a lifestyle check on its officials and employees.

The DOJ was also given power to require other government agencies, including constitutional commissions, to be members of the panel that will investigate the alleged multi-billion anomaly in the state health insurance, or to help in its work. 

“During the course of the investigation, if warranted, the panel may recommend to the president the imposition of preventive suspension on any PhilHealth official to ensure the unhampered conduct of the investigation,” Duterte said.

Eman Villanueva, chairman of Bayan Hong Kong & Macau, cast doubt on what the proposed investigation would accomplish, saying that Duterte may just be trying to show the people that he is acting on the controversy.
Tingnan natin kung kaya niyang papanagutin ang heneral na appointed niya sa tuktok ng PhilHealth. Puro kasi imbestigasyon. Wala namang napaparusahan. Ito naman ang kalakaran under Duterte,” Villanueva said.

(Let’s see if he can hold accountable the general whom he had appointed to head PhilHealth. It’s all investigation. But no one gets punished. That’s how Duterte does things.)

Pinasasakay lang ang taumbayan na akala mo may ginagawa [siya]. Pero lahat ng mga opisyal na appointed ni Duterte na nasangkot sa droga, korupsyon at iba pang krimen ay nag-resign lang, tapos na-recycle din later. Naa-appoint ulit sa ibang departamento. Malamang ganun din ang kahihinatnan niya.”
(He only makes people believe that he’s doing something. But all of the Duterte-appointed officials who were involved in drugs, corruption and other crimes only resigned and were recycled later. They were reappointed to other departments. It’s likely this issue will have a similar conclusion.)

Besides, Villanueva said, Duterte had certified as urgent the Universal Healthcare Law, which made OFW membership in PhilHealth mandatory and raised the premium rate by 10 times.

Ngayon, lumalabas eh pantapal pala sa ninanakaw na pondo ng PhilHealth at OFWs ang kukuhanan,” he said.
(So, now it appears they will use OFW money to cover up their theft of PhilHealth funds)

Dolores Balladares, chairperson of United Filipinos in Hong Kong, said it was just right to investigate the corruption in PhilHealth. 

Balladares during a protest against mandatory PhilHealth contribution: there should be impartial inquiry

“But I don’t think na yung mga tao na itinalaga niya [Duterte] ang dapat mag-imbestiga. Mga taong gobyerno din sila,” said Balladares. 

Isang independent body ang kailangan para maging malinis ang imbestigasyon. Parusahan ang mga opisyal at iba pang sangkot sa korupsyon sa PhilHealth.”


(But I don’t think Duterte’s appointees should do the investigation. They are also with the government. An independent body should conduct the investigation so it is above-board. All officials and other people involved in the corruption in PhilHealth should be punished).

She said PhilHealth president and chief executive Ricardo Morales should also be suspended while being investigated because the anomaly happened under his watch.

“Dapat managot din siya,” Balladares said, adding that Duterte should also be held to account for coddling Morales despite the long-standing allegations of corruption and misdeed against the government agency.

Whistleblower and former anti-fraud legal officer Thorrson Montes Keith told a Senate panel hearing on Aug 4 that a “mafia” involving the PhilHealth executive committee had stolen some Php15 billion from the agency by fraudulent means.

He had earlier alleged “widespread corruption” in the agency in his resignation letter dated Jul 23. He also cited his opposition to OFWs’ mandatory contributions, unfairness in the promotion process, and failure to receive his salary and hazard pay on time since he began investigating PhilHealth officers.

Senate Resolution No. 475 filed by Senate President Vicente Sotto III, Sen. Panfilo Lacson and other colleagues on Jul 27 to convene the Senate Committee of the Whole cited the alleged corrupt deeds.

The resolution cited the undue overpayments to healthcare institutions under the All Case Rates scheme, the alleged  P154-billion scam involving “ghost” patients of WellMed Dialysis & Laboratory Center Corp; conflict of interest in PhilHealth’s lease of a building owned by the family of Health Secretary Francisco Duque III.

In addition, a Mar 15, 2020 letter of PhilHealth board member Alejandro Cabading to Duterte said major discrepancies involving PhilHealth’s IT sector projects were discovered.

Cabading referred to an internal audit report showing P734 million worth of technology resources were included in PhilHealth’s budget proposal for 2020 despite the lack of approval by the Department of Information and Communications Technology. Testifying at the Senate hearing, he said Morales had indeed approved the purchases.

The audit report also revealed P98.05 million in overpriced items and P132.2 million worth of items that were subjected to splitting of contracts to avoid holding a public bidding.

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