Senators are in a bind as they must now choose between two conflicting committee reports on allegations of rampant corruption at the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth).
The Senate Blue Ribbon committee chaired by Senator Richard Gordon released its findings Tuesday on the hearings it conducted last year.
The Senate Committee of the Whole, on the other hand, led by Senate President Vicente Sotto III, is expected to report its findings on fresh allegations of corruption at the agency involving its interim reimbursement mechanism, an allegedly bloated information technology budget and doctored financial statements.
Earlier, Senator Panfilo Lacson, a member of both committees, said the Senate would be put in an awkward situation if the Committee of the Whole report clashes with the Gordon committee report.
Lacson said he will not sign the two committee reports if they contradict each other.
Gordon’s report tagged PhilHealth’s regional vice presidents as members of the so-called mafia which raked in billions of pesos through various fraudulent schemes.
He said the panel found the existence of a “mafia” in PhilHealth, and among its supposed members are seven of the agency’s regional vice presidents and one legal officer. He said they belong to the so-called Mindanao group.
But some of these regional vice presidents were named as “PhilHealth heroes” by the whistleblowers in the Committee of the Whole hearings this month. The whistleblowers pointed instead to members of the executive committee as the PhilHealth mafia.
Lacson has maintained that the regional vice presidents are not members of the mafia. He noted that their moving to other posts was due to administrative matters, and did not involve moral turpitude, fraud or corruption.
But Lacson said he needed to see the Blue Ribbon findings to determine if there might be other reasons to suspect the regional vice presidents.
Lacson said he doesn’t see how a senator would sign both committee reports if their recommendations are contrary to each other.
“We will sign if the two reports do not clash directly. But if their findings contradict each other, I myself may have difficulty signing one,” Lacson said.
Gordon said having two or more “mafias” at PhilHealth was improbable, by “all the hallmarks of a mafia are there.”
The Gordon report also recommended the filing of criminal charges against former Health chief and then concurrent ex-officio PhilHealth board chairman Janette Garin, former budget chief Florencio Abad, and former PhilHealth president Alexander Padilla for allegedly diverting the P10.6-billion PhilHealth Senior Citizen Fund in December 2015 to other projects.
The projects included the planned construction of thousands of barangay health stations, rural health units, national government hospitals, and the procurement of mobile dental trucks.
These projects, Gordon said. were barely completed, and he suspected the money was used to bankroll electoral campaigns ahead of the May 2016 national polls.
Garin and Padilla already faced a graft case before the Office of the Ombudsman in May 2018 over the same allegations.
Abad vehemently denied allegations of irregularity. He said the release of P9.39 billion for the Health Facilities Enhancement Program’s barangay health stations, rural and urban health centers, and dental equipment was legal and above-board.
He also questioned the timing of Gordon’s release of his committee’s findings, saying the recommended charges against him were “baseless, built on nothing but unfounded accusations.”
Sotto said his panel is finalizing its report, which he plans to release next week. He said there’s no sacred cow in his report and everybody will be hit.
Furthermore, Gordon said Health Secretary Francisco Duque should explain to the Ombudsman the lease of a Duque family-owned property to PhilHealth.
In a related development, the House of Representatives’ joint committee that is investigating alleged irregularities at PhilHealth recommended the suspension of the application of COVID-19 case rates under suspected and probable cases.
Marikina Rep. Stella Quimbo initially made the recommendation at the resumption of hearings Thursday.
“Maybe we can suspend the application of COVID-19 case rates for suspected or probable patients. To my knowledge, according to the DOH, there is no backlog in testing so by the time the patient is discharged, there should be no suspect or probable cases because the test results are out by that time,” Quimbo said.
Given this, Quimbo said PhilHealth should not allow the reimbursement of cases for suspected and probable cases.
Quimbo’s motion was seconded by Anakalusugan Rep. Mike Defensor, chairman of the House committee on public accounts.
Duque on Thursday reacted to the Blue Ribbon report.
“I welcome the Senate inquiry as a way of clearing my name,” he said. “My public service record is an open book. If there is a single thread of conclusive evidence of my involvement on any and all issues, then let the axe fall. I have been Philhealth president in 2001-2005; chairman of the board in 2005 to 2009; board member in 2016 and chairman again in 2017 to the present,” Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said.
“It pains me to be called ‘godfather’ before the Senate by a very polluted source. It hurts my family to be dragged in all sorts of innuendoes just because I have been a former PhilHealth president, chairman, board member and now, again its chairman. Accountability and transparency have been my guidepost in all my years in the public sector and I have tried to reform the institution. Even under the pandemic, we try our level best to get things done,” Duque said.
“The whole institution of PhilHealth is composed of decent and competent public servants. The rotten eggs are not the be all of the institution. I thank the President and the secretary of Justice in pursuing a clean-up. I suggest to Congress that a fixed term PCEO be returned because reforms are long term and I also recommend that a study be made on limiting the inclusion of department secretaries to ex-officio positions and the like,” Duque said.
“Following the advice of senators, in yesterday’s PhilHealth Regular Board Meeting, I am seeking more active participation of the secretaries of other member agencies of the board of directors,” Duque said.