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Allegations of corruption at PhilHealth

"What is with this scandal-prone agency?"

There is a saying that when there is smoke, there is fire. The smoke coming from PhilHealth is such that it can no longer be ignored. The President has already taken note of the issue and the Senate has come out with a resolution to investigate the allegations from a whistleblower, lawyer Thorsson Montes Keith, who used to work with PhilHealth.

It might as well be because the only way to get to the bottom of this issue, once and for all, is to conduct an impartial investigation. Who is right and who is wrong cannot be settled in the media in this case. As we all know, this is not the first time that the agency has been embroiled in a corruption controversy. It was not that long ago that PhilHealth was rocked with the Well Med Dialysis Center scandal that resulted in the President’s appointment of Ricardo Morales, another retired military officer as the new Chief Executive Officer of the agency.

What is it about PhilHealth that it seems to be jumping from one scandal to another? If these allegations turn out to be true, I doubt that PhilHealth could survive another problem of this magnitude. It will mark its end and even result in the creation of a new organization.

I am not familiar with the management style of Morales. I have never met him. The only information that I was able to gather is that he belongs to the PMA class of 1977, comes from Davao, and was part of some “military adventures” in the past. When he took over the reins of PhilHealth, he did not bring anyone close to him and did not make drastic changes in the agency. In fact, not much was heard from him until the pandemic started, followed by this new corruption allegations.

Morales initially said that these new allegations were from a disgruntled employee who was not appointed to a new position. The issue, however, refused to die and Morales had to challenge Keith to come out with specifics. Keith obliged. He mentioned the release of hundreds of millions of pesos to hospitals with no or very few COVID-19 patients. The money is apparently part of a P30-billion government fund intended for hospitals to treat COVID-19 patients throughout the country.

Morales has confirmed this but gave the reason that since PhilHealth did not know how the virus would spread throughout the country, it played safe by distributing the money to hundreds of hospitals in order for these medical facilities to be ready to handle patients when needed. It was a shotgun solution which shows the kind of planning expertise that the agency is capable of.

As it turned out, many of these hospitals ended up with no COVID-19 patients at all—but they are apparently still keeping the money. The agency's projections therefore were way off the mark. It should perhaps been better for PhilHealth planners to have prioritized hospitals in congested urban centers and not treat all hospitals in the same way. What happens to the money given to hospitals with no COVID-19 patients?

Keith is also alleging that the funds intended for hospitals are being treated as intelligence funds. PhilHealth is vehemently denying this. Since the amount mentioned is so huge, the public is entitled to know where the money went and how it was spent.

Keith did not elaborate regarding regulations on how much each hospital can receive or whether it is uniform or discretionary on the part of PhilHealth.

Another issue mentioned is the splitting of contracts but the way this was explained in the media was not very clear. In the government, agencies split contracts when the contract price goes beyond the signing authority of the head of an agency. In this case, the contracts were probably split so that the contract did not have to be forwarded to a higher authority for signing.

If this turns out to be true, then PhilHealth will have a lot of explaining to do. Senator Ping Lacson has been itching for a Senate hearing. Now, he will have the opportunity to question Health Secretary Francisco Duque who happens to be the Chairman of PhilHealth; he was invited as a resource person.

For the institution’s sake, I hope that this hearing will turn to be just a lot of smoke as PhilHeath is saying and just coming from an employee that has an axe to grind. But one never knows what can come out in such proceedings. The outcome might surprise us—and that is why it is important to do it.

Topics: Florencio Fianza , PhilHealth , corruption , Ricardo Morales , COVID-19
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