"Filipinos owe these three men a huge debt of gratitude."
Whatever a nation’s overall situation, and in bad as well as good times, every year brings forth citizens who, in noble and fearless fashion, defend its interests, protect its integrity, and promote its well-being. Their actions are heroic: They are the nation’s Heroes of the Year.
There are numerous Filipinos who every year perform heroic acts of some kind or another for their country. But in my estimation, three individuals stood out as heroes. They comprise my selection of Heroes of the Year 2020.
The first is lawyer Thorsson Montes Keith, a legal consultant of the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation, the national health insurance institution. Blowing the whistle on the people with whom one works is always a dangerous act, and this is especially true where there is strong evidence of a well-entrenched mafia within the institution. Mr. Keith was fully aware of the possible consequences – including consequences adverse to his personal safety – but that thought did not deter him from doing what he felt he had to do. At the Senate hearing that was held to investigate PhilHealth’s operational status, Mr. Keith called the anomalies at PhilHealth, collectively, the crime of the century.
The fallout from Mr. Keith’s disclosures was swift and wide. The heads of numerous high-ranking PhilHealth officials – including that of the institution’s president – were chopped off, big-ticket expenditures were reviewed, and the dubious hospital reimbursement program was scrutinized. The cleansing process is not over, but much corrective action has already been taken. Undoubtedly, PhilHealth will be a closely watched institution hereafter. Thanks to Hero of the Year Thorsson Montes Keith.
Another Hero of the Year 2020 was Senator Panfilo Lacson. After his work on the proposed General Appropriations Act for 2021, he truly deserves to be called Mr. Budget. Over the years, the former police general from Cavite has made it his mission to be conversant with the nefarious operations – overpricing, lump-summing, insertions and concealment – associated with the structuring of the national budget, especially its public-works portion. One of Senator Lacson’s signal accomplishments was his discovery of the P75 billion worth of insertions in the proposed 2019 GAA, whose passage was delayed as a result of said anomaly. Another accomplishment was Ping Lacson’s discovery of the practice of many departments and agencies of “parking” their unspent funds with the Philippine International Trading Corporation to avoid having to return them to the Treasury at year-end.
It’s entirely possible that Senator Lacson has been scratching only the surface of the GAA and that there is still much below-the-iceberg’s-tip work for him to do. But the former PNP chief has already done a lot of uncovering; for that he merits being called a Hero of the Year.
The third individual who deserves to be named Hero of the Year 2020 is Senior Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, Antonio Carpio. After retiring from the nation’s highest tribunal, Justice Carpio began the second half of his public life, namely, the defense of this country’s maritime sovereignty and the protection of the Philippines’ victory over China in the Permanent Court of Arbitration case involving Philippine rights in the West Philippine Sea.
In a political environment that is loath to advance those rights against China, Justice Carpio has virtually single-handedly been carrying the torch for the Philippines. To use another well-known expression, Justice Carpio’s voice has been close to being a voice in the wilderness.
For the enormous amount of work that he has done on this country’s maritime rights, including the collection of numerous maps and charts, Justice Carpio is truly deserving of the accolade Hero of the Year. Given the way things are, and at the rate he is going, he may very well be Hero of the Year 2021 as well.
Filipinos owe a huge debt of gratitude to these three heroes.