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Saturday, July 13, 2024

Command responsibility: PhilHealth chairman should lead the way

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"It is high time this is made a part of the culture of public administration in this country."


A clamor quickly arose for the resignation of Secretary of Health Francisco Duque after the revelation by the media of fraudulent claims totaling several hundred million pesos allegedly submitted by a kidney-dialysis center to the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth) and paid by the national health insurance institution. The clamor was founded on the fact that Secretary was, and remains, PhilHealth’s ex oficio chairman. As such officer, the clamorers argued, Dr. Duque participated in PhilHealth board meetings and therefore knew—or should have made it his business to know—what was happening in and to PhilHealth.

The insinuation was also made that PhilHealth’s chairman was soft on the dialysis center’s owner because the latter was his godson.

These charges against Secretary Duque are not without validity. The chairman of the board of a corporate institution is not appointed in order to decorate an office in the institution. He or she is appointed to perform a function: that function is to preside over the body that oversees the institution’s operations. Performing oversight means keeping oneself abreast of everything that is happening within the institution: reading reports, asking questions, seeking explanations and being observant. A chairman who does not do these things is reduced to being a piece of decoration.

Francisco Duque II has declared that he has engaged in no wrongdoing and has pointed to what he says is a record of professional integrity. Indeed, not one of his detractors has accused the Secretary of Health of profiting from the dialysis-center shenanigan or any other fraudulent arrangement. What they are charging him with are negligence, dereliction of duty and—in the case of the lease to PhilHealth of office space belonging to the Duque family—conflict of interest.

Because the dialysis-center scam has apparently been going on for some time, PhilHealth’s chairman can fairly be said to have been sleeping on the job. An act of omission is punishable under Republic Act 3019 (the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act) if the government suffers financial loss as a result. He cannot be heard to say “I was only the chairman” because, as has already been stated, a chairman of a corporate board is not meant to be a mere spectator.

I have been an admirer of the Secretary of Health ever since he came onto the public scene. The Duque family is a family of fine people, and in Francisco Duque II’s case the fruit has fallen close to the tree. A charge of wrongdoing against the Secretary is bound to fail.

Nonetheless, I say with utmost reluctance that Dr. Duque should resign. I’m saying this not because he has been a negligent PhilHealth chairman or because of any other charge of a qualitative nature. My reason for suggesting that Secretary Duque resign has to do with the concept of command responsibility.

In most of the developed countries the concept of command responsibility has long been, or has become established as, a concomitant of governance and public service. Observance of this concept is particularly strong in Japan and South Korea. In Japan the Minister for Railways has been known to resign forthwith when a commuter train has been derailed and the Minister of Transportation has summarily tendered his resignation when a civilian aircraft has fallen out of the sky. The Ministers in question had nothing to do with the mishaps, but they nonetheless relinquished their positions without hesitating because their administrative domains were involved.

Governance and public service in this country know no concept of command responsibility. Public officials adjudged to have fallen down on the job invariably tough it out, hoping that the Chief Executive will allow them to stay in the government (often in another capacity) or that the short-memoried Filipino people will soon forget or forgive their shortcomings. The word for this in Filipino is pakapalan. It is not right for government officials, when charged with non-performance of duty, to say “I serve at the pleasure of the President”; they should instead say “I serve at the pleasure of the Filipino people.”

It is high time the concept of command responsibility was made a part of the culture of public administration in this country. Someone has to lead the way. In the face of the PhilHealth scam, that someone might as well be Francisco Duque II.

Please accept command responsibility, Mr. Secretary, and go.


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