Health Sec. Francisco Duque III on Wednesday branded as “baseless” the findings of the Senate Committee of Whole that recommended the filing of graft charges and other criminal offenses against him and other officials of the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth).
Appearing before the House of Representatives, Duque said the findings linking him to the irregularities at PhilHealth were based solely on allegations.
Duque said it was unfortunate that he was included in the charges, as a non-voting chairman of the PhilHealth board, even though he was not present during the deliberations nor did he sign any board resolution on the controversial interim reimbursement mechanism (IRM) at the center of the new corruption allegations.
But Duque said he would cooperate with any inquiry.
“Certainly, I intend to clear my name,” he said.
Sought for his comment on the issue Tuesday, Duque said he just finished a series of meetings and was only informed of the sponsorship speech of Senate President Vicente Sotto III on the findings of the Committee on the Whole on PhilHealth.
“This is not the best time for the executive to have a difference with the legislative branch, but two weeks ago I went to the Senate to shed light on the issues based on my personal knowledge,” he said.
Facing the senators during the third and last hearing of the Senate Committee of the Whole, Duque vowed to do some soul searching to determine if his best efforts to address the COVID-19 pandemic were enough.
Senators had called for the resignation of Duque due to alleged failure of leadership in handling the pandemic, but the DOH chief said he served at the pleasure of the President.
The Senate Committee of the Whole earlier recommended the filing of charges against Duque, ex-officio chairman of the PhilHealth board, and the agency’s resigned president and chief executive officer Ricardo Morales, among others, over the alleged “improper and illegal implementation of the interim reimbursement mechanism (IRM).”
Duque also said he is an advocate of “zero tolerance on fraud and corruption” even as he cited the reforms and investigations he launched as PhilHealth director back in 2001 up until 2017 when he became ex-officio chairman of the board because he was Health secretary.
Sotto on Wednesday said he deliberately did not mention the Senate recommendation to replace Duque as a sign of courtesy.
In an online interview, Sotto said he did not want to make it appear that the senators were giving an order to the President.
“So it’s just there in the committee report and I did not mention it in the plenary yesterday (Tuesday),” he said. “I was being polite by not mentioning it, but it is in the committee report.”
The Senate leader also said they stand by their recommendation for the President to appoint a new DOH secretary.
He said the successor of Duque should be an official who has a strong will to fight corruption inside PhilHealth.
Earlier, the senators passed a resolution demanding Duque resignation over his failure of leadership and corruption issues hounding PhilHealth.
While Duque’s signature did not appear in the documents subject of the irregularities, Sotto said he tolerated the illegal release of funds from the IRM.
Sotto said this was the reason Duque should be slapped with criminal charges, among them graft and corruption and technical malversation.
“Through abandonment or negligence, you knew billions were released,” Sotto said of Duque, saying it was impossible that the Health secretary would not know that these releases were irregular.
But Senator Panfilo Lacson, a staunch critic of Duque, said there was not enough evidence as yet to prove his criminal liability.
“If I had my way…based on the three hearings of the Committee of the Whole, there may not be enough evidence to recommend criminal charges against Secretary Duque,” Lacson said in a statement.
“[This is] for the simple reason that like the other members of the PhilHealth Board, he had no hand in the illegal implementation of the IRM; nor was he involved in the procurement of overpriced IT equipment,” Lacson said.
But Lacson said he respects the views of the colleagues who may “have seen it another way.”
“Since we are a collegial body, we always abide by the rule of the majority,” he said.
Senator Richard Gordon also said there was not enough evidence against Duque.
“I always want to be fair. It’s not popular to be seen as supporting Duque but he was being blamed for the IRM mess. In truth and in fact, he was never there. He did not participate, he was absent,” said Gordon, who said he would sign the committee report with reservations.
“We must be seen as fair, we must be seen as complete but firm. If there are other things that they can charge him (Duque) with, then they’ll have to come up with something. In my view, whenever I make any accusations I make sure that I have a piece of paper that supports it,” he said.
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