"We have to get to the bottom of the mess at PhilHealth."
We are rather disturbed, if appalled, as any of those who have nimbly paid their PhilHealth dues for years, given the discovery during the Senate hearing earlier this week that billions of pesos have been misused in the state-run Philippine Health Insurance Corporation.
Such anomaly, hardly anticipated of presumably men of honor, beneficence and compassion, was never expected. But the Senate hearing, following a resolution co-sponsored by Senate President Vicente Sotto III and Senator Panfilo Lacson put all the jacks, queens and kings as well as aces on the table, exacting disquietude and distress among those who looked forward to the public hearing.
The probe had been initiated following allegations of widespread corruption in PhilHealth which gained adhesion following a controversial meeting of PhilHealth officials and members of President Rodrigo Duterte’s Cabinet.
What makes the scenario even more horrendous is that this is happening while the claws of the coronavirus pandemic are pecking at listlessly the population, thousands of whom—and may we add posthaste have been diligent in paying or have paid their PhilHealth fees—while these alleged anomalies were shamelessly happening.
It is good that both incumbent and resigned officials of PhilHealth have sought the Senate intervention to help them “drain the swamp” and rub off the corruption in the agency.
Lacson was on track when he said that the probe must be done now: “And for good reason. PhilHealth is a murky, stinking swamp that many of its good and well-meaning people from the officials to their rank-and-file employees (are) drained, not just of some corrupt but well-entrenched officials who do not seem to run out of malevolent schemes to enrich themselves.”
Lacson, at the start of the Senate Committee of the Whole hearing, referred to “a deeply rooted, mafia-like syndicate that controls the resources of the corporation, and habitually manipulate its financial records, that even the Commission on Audit seems helpless in the conduct of their regular audit.”
The issues included PhilHealth’s alleged overpriced ICT equipment; the manipulation of PhilHealth’s financial statements; and the highly irregular implementation of advanced payments to health care institutions through the Interim Reimbursement Mechanism policy.
Lacson also claimed that some high-level officials in PhilHealth had been involved in previous anomalies but managed to keep their posts, a scenario that is most disgusting at the very minimum.
We heard PhilHealth chief Ricardo Morales as saying the agency could have lost P10.2 billion due to fraud in 2019, and this could double by next year if the issue on alleged irregularities in the agency were not addressed before much longer.
Among witnesses supporting the existence of irregularities in PhilHealth are former anti-fraud officer Thorrsson Montes Keith, former head executive assistant Estrobal Laborte, and incumbent board member Alejandro Cabading.
We note that Morales cited a study conducted last year which found that fraudulent cases comprised 7.5 percent of the total, which compared, in his view, with the global average of 10 to 20 percent—as if the Philippine figures were taking the edge off.
"I have maintained from day one of my tenure that the main solution to this systematic fraud problem lies in our robust, integrated, and harmonized information management system running a clean, complete, and updated membership database," he said, adding PhilHealth should be helped instead of mocked.
Fighting words. We hope the Senate hearing would be able to go to the bottom of all this, sanction those who deserve retribution who knew all along that the corruption, whatever its vest was, then and now, at the expense of innocent people.