Facing the Senate Committee of the Whole for the first time over the Philippine Health Corporation (PhilHealth) controversy, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III on Tuesday claimed there had been no P154-billion loss over the years due to various forms of fraud within the state-run health insurance firm.
However, in the same hearing, former PhilHealth anti-fraud officer Thorrsson Montes Keith tagged Duque as the "godfather" of the agency's "mafia."
Keith said the Health secretary served for at least 11 years either as president or chairman of the state-run firm, giving him "institutional knowledge" of the workings within the agency.
The secretary replied: "I deny this. Absolutely malicious and without basis. I do not wish to dignify that allegation."
“I have clarified this before the Blue Ribbon Committee last year, but I will repeat it to set the record straight. There is no such thing as a 154-billion-peso loss,” Duque added.
He made the statement and then shared with the committee a June 10, 2020 letter from Commission on Audit Chairman Michael G. Aguinaldo allegedly showing there was no finding in the published COA Annual Audit Reports corroborating the alleged loss.
But Duque admitted that PhilHealth was wrong when it allowed dialysis centers and maternity clinics to use the Interim Reimbursement Mechanism or IRM intended only for COVID-19 patients.
He said the budget allocation under IRM for the COVID-19 pandemic should be used only for the coronavirus pandemic.
He made the admission after questioning by Senator Panfilo Lacson, who has called for the alleged mafia in the PhilHealth to be "uprooted."
The joint panel in the House of Representatives investigating the alleged corruption in PhilHealth, meanwhile, on Tuesday toyed with the idea of issuing a hold-departure order against several PhilHealth officials involved in the alleged "mafia-like" corruption in the agency.
Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra also said the Task Force PhilHealth might include in its recommendation to President Rodrigo Duterte the reorganization of the insurance firm after it completes its investigation into the multi-billion-peso fund mess at the agency.
Duque also denied injury to the government on the 2020 IT budget of Philhealth, saying there had been no release of any funding on the project “since everything is still at the proposal stage.”
“This is precisely because we need a more complete analysis on both hardware and software infrastructure needed by PhilHealth,” Duque said.
He recommended a complete overhaul of Philhealth’s Information Systems Strategic Plan. He wanted to put PhilHealth back on track with its IT Roadmap.
As chairman, Duque said, “I supported the recommendation that the audit findings be investigated by a fact-finding committee. This was echoed by other board members and it was agreed that a fact finding committee be created.”
But to date, the board has yet to decide how to implement this much-needed IT project prior to the release of government money after scrutinizing the details of PhilHealth’s 2020 ICT plan.
Duque confirmed that PhilHealth Management had just received an Internal Audit Group report that declared the earlier discrepancies found in the IT budget proposal to have been reconciled.
“I will direct management to present this soonest so PhilHealth can move forward in its much-needed operations,” Duque said.