‘Special powers needed to fix PhilHealth mess’

A leader of the House of Representatives on Saturday denounced senators’ rejection of the proposed emergency powers for President Rodrigo Duterte to fix the corruption-laden Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth).

“Some members of the Senate are a bit confused as to where they stand as regards PhilHealth,” House Public Accounts Committee chair and Anakalusugan party-list Rep. Mike Defensor said.

He noted that senators, in a recent committee report, had spoken about the violations in PhilHealth’s Interim Reimbursement Mechanism (IRM), and IT bidding process, as well as the irregularities in its legal sector, and its financial statements based on Commission on Audit observations.

“We are here to provide a healthcare system that our people deserve. The work we are doing is not only for us but for the future of our children,” he said.

The congressman said the Senate “has vigorously investigated PhilHealth on several occasions and is aware of the deep-seated problems that need to be addressed.”

Defensor cited a portion of the actuarial life of the Senate’s committee report which states that: “Therefore, there is an extremely urgent need for an intensive and extensive review and inspection of the corporation’s financial life before it is, as we all will be, gone to the dogs.” 

“They say it’s extremely urgent and yet they deny the need for emergency powers for this to be accomplished,” Defensor lamented. 

Defensor explained the provision of emergency powers is needed so the President could have a “free hand in reorganizing PhilHealth pending investigation.”

“For this purpose, the President may abolish or create offices; split, group, or merge positions, transfer functions, records, and personnel in pursuit of an in-depth investigation and in making PhilHealth more responsive and efficient,” he said. “The hiring of personnel and/or companies for audit, actuarial, legal, and financial purposes can also be undertaken without going through the cumbersome processes of government which may take a year before it can be affected.”

To ensure transparency and effectiveness of the reforms and actions to be undertaken by the Executive, Defensor said Congress can conduct weekly reviews.

“The oversight function given to the Senate and House under the Universal Healthcare Law should be restated to ensure transparency in the actions to be undertaken by the Executive,” the lawmaker said. “Emergency powers are limited in time and not in perpetuity.”

“We have not yet formally introduced legislation to be approved by the House and yet they lambast the idea as if they already have a copy of the bill,” Defensor added.

In a hearing on PhilHealth issues on Wednesday, Defensor said the House panel was inclined to grant Duterte emergency powers to solve the irregularities in the state insurance firm.

Senate President Vicente Sotto III and Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon said the grant of additional powers would be unnecessary.

Sen. Panfilo Lacson, meanwhile, said “honest-to-goodness, strong political will” was needed more than extra authority.

Health Sec. Francisco Duque III, who serves as chair of the PhilHealth board in an ex-officio capacity, and newly-appointed PhilHealth chief Dante Gierran have supported the proposal while Malacañang welcomed it.

Meanwhile, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra on Friday said the Task Force PhilHealth mandated to investigate graft and corruption at PhilHealth will wrap up its investigation into the agency’s multi-billion-peso fund mess.

While the Inter-agency Task Force will submit its report and recommendation to President Duterte on September 14, Guevarra said the composite teams will continue with their investigation of the more complicated PhilHealth cases of graft or fraud and file the appropriate legal action even beyond that termination date.

Guevarra earlier expressed hope that certain legal actions would be filed with the Ombudsman.

“But the deeper and more thorough investigative work and structural reforms affecting the central and regional offices will continue for a long time thereafter. We hope that the new leaders who will be installed at PhilHealth will carry on this internal cleansing and restoration on their own,” Guevarra said.

Topics: House of Representatives , Rodrigo Duterte , corruption , Philippine Health Insurance Corp.
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