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‘Purge PhilHealth of crooks’

Duterte orders new agency chief to finish clean-up job in 6 months

President Rodrigo Duterte has ordered newly-appointed Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth) president Dante Gierran to rid the state-run agency of corruption in six months, the Palace said Thursday.

“The President wants to clean up PhilHealth, and that is why the deadline [was] given to Attorney Gierran.... File all the cases that need to be filed, suspend, terminate, whatever you need to do in order to cleanse the ranks of PhilHealth,” presidential spokesman Harry Roque said in an online briefing.

Gierran, a former director of the National Bureau of Investigation, had earlier vowed to reduce corruption in PhilHealth within two years.

Senate President Vicente Sotto III said the President had wanted PhilHealth abolished or privatized, but agreed to wait a few months to see how Gierran would perform.

Sotto said he told the President that he would be filing a bill making the secretary of Finance instead of the Health secretary the chairman of the board.

“He agreed to my proposal,” Sotto said. “I explained that PhilHealth is an insurance corporation, not a health entity.”

Senator Christopher Go said the President and legislative leaders also looked at lengthening prison terms for certain crimes during their meeting on Wednesday.

Sotto said the President also wanted to reduce red tape further by amending the Ease of Doing Business Law.

Sotto said he promised to send the President first a copy of a bill that Congress would come up with in coordination with the House of Representatives before filing.

The Universal Health Care and PhilHealth law, he said, was also taken up during the meeting.

Sotto said the President did not bring up the case of Health Secretary Francisco Duque III, who senators said should be charged with negligence.

“I was ready to talk about it but he did not bring the name up,” Sotto said.

Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra, meanwhile, said the task force looking into corruption in PhilHealth has not yet cleared Duque and other board members.

Guevarra also expressed support for the suggestion of a change in leadership in the state-owned health insurer.

Guevarra said the DOJ-led task force did not see sufficient evidence to pin down Duque for corruption and wrongdoing when it submitted its preliminary findings to the President Monday.

However, the DOJ chief said they are not yet discounting the liability of Duque and other members of the board as they dig deeper into the widespread irregularities at PhilHealth.

In its preliminary report to the President, the Task Force PhilHealth found anomalies in the agency’s interim reimbursement mechanism, procurement of ICT equipment, and its policy on accountability.

Two composite teams are still investigating PhilHealth’s legal and IT sectors, which may likely result in more officials being recommended for prosecution.

Sotto earlier expressed surprise that Duque was not among those recommended by the task force to be charged in connection with the PhilHealth fund mess.

The Senate and House of Representatives conducted separate investigations into alleged anomalies at PhilHealth.

When asked about differences in the findings of the task force and of the Senate, Guevarra said that it was possible that the two bodies received different pieces of evidence and evaluated these differently.

However, Guevarra said the DOJ would make sure that the complaints it will file against those liable are supported with evidence.

Guevarra also supported the proposal to reorganize the leadership structure of PhilHealth because he believes that the Health secretary might have “spread himself too thinly” across his many responsibilities.

“In the case of PhilHealth, it was possible that the proper attention due to PhilHealth might not have been given precisely because the secretary of Health has been spread too thinly,” Guevarra said.

“But that’s not really an excuse,” he added. “It’s a pity because PhilHealth is a very important agency or corporation of the government and I believe that more attention, especially in the light of so many anomalies or irregularities being reported, should have been given by the secretary and the members of the board.

Guevarra also said he is looking at creating a third composite team to investigate anomalies in connection with PhilHealth’s finances.

In a message to reporters, Guevarra said this composite team would focus on PhilHealth’s financial management and issues like window dressing of financial statements.

Two composite teams have already been formed by Task Force PhilHealth to tackle issues arising from the firm’s IT (information technology) system and its legal sector.

On Wednesday, Guevarra said the teams have a month to submit the results of their probes.

Topics: Rodrigo Duterte , Philippine Health Insurance Corp , Dante Gierran , National Bureau of Investigation , Menardo Guevarra , Francisco Duque III
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