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Senator chimes in on PhilHealth

Senator Panfilo Lacson on Thursday hit the government’s apparent “selective justice” in asking all officials of the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. to resign while sparing Health Secretary Franciso Duque, who also sits as the state agency’s chairman of the board.

“When all the board members of PhilHealth were asked to resign, it is difficult to understand why a different standard should be applied to the chairman of the board who happens to be the DOH secretary,” Lacson said on his Twitter account.

On Thursday, Lacson also told President Rodrigo Duterte in a tweet that Duque was PhilHealth president in 2004 when P500 million in Overseas Workers Welfare Administration funds were used illegally to buy health cards bearing the photo of then President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo with the motto “GMA Para sa Masa, Para sa Lahat” (GMA for the masses, for all).

Given the circumstances already made public and the huge amount of government funds squandered on bogus dialysis treatments, sparing Duque was clearly a case of selective justice.

Duque could not be reached for comment on Lacson’s remarks.

In a statement on the ghost dialysis scam, Duque said he ordered a revamp of the agency’s accreditation committee after the President ordered the leadership to resign.

Duque noted that all false claims will be investigated and when warranted, charges will be filed.

“I am warning all health providers and PhilHealth officials in the strongest possible terms: Do not cheat the system nor even attempt to do it,” he said.

Duque blamed the accreditation committee for failing to act on the recommendation to revoke the accreditation of Wellmed Dialysis Center, which allegedly billed PhilHealth more than P800 million for bogus treatments for members that were already dead.

Duque admitted he was a wedding sponsor of Wellmed’s owner, Bryan Sy, but guaranteed that justice would be served to those who defrauded the system.

He said he would not protect Sy in the ongoing investigation.

Sy was arrested Monday while being interrogated by the National Bureau of Investigation.

Presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo said it was likely that President Duterte would accept the resignations of the PhilHealth officials when he returns to Manila.

“He demanded their resignation. Why would you ask them to resign if you won’t accept it?” he said.

Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra on Thursday said the PhilHealth officials are not yet off the hook despite their resignation.

“The NBI is looking into the possibility that certain PhilHealth officials may be charged for violation of the Anti-Graft Law if they knowingly participated in this allegedly fraudulent scheme and benefitted from it,” Guevarra said, in an interview.

After meeting with President Duterte earlier this week, the PhilHealth officials led by president and chief executive officer Roy Ferrer submitted their resignations.

The six other PhilHealth Board members who resigned were Jack Arroyo, elected local chief executive; Rex Maria Mendoza, independent director of the Monetary Board; Hildegardes Dineros of the information economy sector; Celestina Ma. Jude dela Serna of the Filipino overseas workers' sector; Roberto Salvador of the formal economy sector; and Joan Cristine Reina Liban-Lareza of the health care provider sector.

Earlier, the NBI filed charges of estafa and falsification of documents against officers of WellMed Dialysis and Laboratory Center led by owner Bryan Sy before the DOJ earlier this week.

However, the complaint did not include any PhilHealth officials who even stood as complainants in the charges against Sy and 10 others.

The Department of Justice was set to resolve the charges against the WellMed officers Thursday after conducting inquest proceedings.

Sy questioned his arrest without warrant and sought relief from the Manila regional trial court, which rejected his plea for a writ of habeas corpus.

Aside from Sy, the NBI complaint named other WellMed executives as respondents -- Dr. John Ray Gonzales, medical director; Claro Sy, chairman; Alvin Sy, corporate treasurer; Therese Francesca Tan, purchasing officer; Dick Ong, administration officer; and physicians Dr. Porshia Natividad and Joemie Soriano.

The charge sheet also listed whistleblowers Edwin Roberto and Liezel Aileen Santos, who exposed the clinic’s alleged “ghost dialysis scandal” and whose affidavits became basis of the charges.

Two pro-administration lawmakers on Thursday said the swift measures carried out by Duterte and the Department of Health will lead to long-term reforms, such as enabling the government to plug the massive fund hemorrhage in the agency, especially at this time of ever rising health care costs.

Representatives Jericho Nograles of Puwersa ng Bayaning Atleta Party-list and Luis Raymund Villafuerte of Camarines Sur made the statement following the President’s order for the PhilHealth board members to submit their courtesy resignations.

“Battling systemic corruption requires vigilance,” Nograles said.

“The swift measures undertaken were done because no less than the President ordered it. I hope the officers serving under the President will move faster and not wait for the President to police their own ranks,” he added.

Villafuerte said “every peso counts” when it comes to implementing the Universal Health Care program, in the wake of reports showing that health care costs are rising in the country and considered among the highest in Asia.

Villafuerte was referring to a report by Mercer Marsh Benefits, an international consultancy firm, which said that health care inflation in the Philippines is projected at 13.7 percent in 2019, the second-highest in Asia after Vietnam, which is at 14.2 percent. The Philippines’ projected 13.7-percent health care inflation far outpaces the country’s overall inflation, which was just 3.2 percent in May.

“We cannot afford to just sweep under the rug these health care scams,” Villafuerte said.

READ: Davao-based doctor eyed as new PhilHealth chief

READ: Duterte sacks PhilHealth execs

READ: WellMed owner loses court plea, stays detained

Topics: Panfilo Lacson , Philippine Health Insurance Corp. , Franciso Duque , Rodrigo Duterte
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