SENATORS support the call for a probe into the fresh allegations of corruption against PhilHealth.
Senate President Vicente "Tito" Sotto III said there must be a full blown Senate investigation saying allegations and denials abound therefore diligence is necessary.
"Where there is smoke, there is fire!" Sotto stressed.
Senator Joel Villanueva for his part said that the people cannot ignore the stench of corruption especially during the pandemic.
"If the allegations are true, this is an unconscionable betrayal of the public trust. I support any move to investigate PhilHealth," Villanueva said.
Senator Sonny Angara meanwhile urged the Commission on Audit to immediately conduct a special audit saying PhilHealth funds are precious even more during this time of COVID-19.
"Reports are that the three (PhilHealth officials) who resigned are idealistic former military officers who were not happy with what was being done," he said.
Angara added that the Senate can also revive its inquiry in aid of legislation from a year ago on the finances of PhilHealth.
"A big chunk of taxpayer money goes to PhilHealth every year to be directed for the people’s health and the implementation of Universal Health Care. As it is funds are hardly suffficient and corruption would make this worse and is really criminal," Angara further said.
Senator Koko Pimentel also expressed support for a probe into the specific subject matter as well as a hearing to review the entire PhilHealth system.
"Why do funds deplete so fast? And why are there at the same time so many complaints from hospitals that they are not being reimbursed promptly. And many more questions," he said.
First on agenda
SENATOR Panfilo "Ping" Lacson confirmed that an inquiry into alleged corruption in Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth) and mismanagement of its funds will be the top agenda of the Senate once it resumes session on Monday.
Lacson said he is file a resolution calling for a Senate Committee of the Whole inquiry on the new allegations against Philhealth.
"Unabated corruption and mismanagement of Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth) funds has been a topic of discussion among Senate President (Tito) Sotto and me, along with some senators from the majority bloc, for quite some time now," Lacson stressed.
"But the reported shouting match in a recent virtual conference between the PhilHealth president and some board members involving almost P1 billion worth of questionable transactions, including a total overprice of P98 million -- if true -- says it all," he added.
Lacson further said that corruption occurred amid the COVID-19 crisis makes it more disgusting and abominable.
"Nakakasuya na sobra. Needless to say, there is urgency that the Senate has to act on the matter immediately, as part of its oversight mandate, having passed the Universal Health Law," he stressed.
When the Senate investigated issues surrounding PhilHealth and the Department of Health -- including instances of conflict of interest involving the family of DOH Secretary Francisco Duque III with the family-owned Doctors Pharmaceuticals Inc. having contracts with the Department of Health, and the PhilHealth regional office renting a Duque-owned building; and with the Secretary's pattern of failure prompting 14 senators to file a resolution seeking his resignation -- Lacson said they had hoped the shenanigans at PhilHealth would end with a new leadership.
"Sad to say, how wrong we were," he said.
'State of emergency'
Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon stressed that with P221 billion in public funds -- the total asset of PhilHealth as of April 2020 -- the allegations of widespread corruption within the health insurance agency cannot be swept under the rug.
“The high degree of corruption within PhilHealth must be stopped. It has reached a level akin to a state of emergency,” Drilon said.
“The administration cannot just sweep it under the rug. This should be immediately investigated,” he stressed, adding, “the Senate should prioritize the investigation when it resumes session next week.”
Drilon issued the statement following published reports that at least three executives of PhilHealth have supposedly resigned due to the widespread corruption issues within the agency. The officials who reportedly resigned included Anti-Fraud Legal Officer Thorrsson Montes Keith.
"Whatever their issues in PhilHealth are, we must protect the funds of PhilHealth to the tune of P221 billion both from corruption and disarray in the agency,” Drilon said.
Drilon said that he is no longer surprised by the allegations given the past history of PhilHealth, citing the issues of “ghost dialysis patients” and “ghost cataract patients” that hounded the agency.
It was Drilon who exposed the overpriced COVID-19 test package of PhilHealth last May. His expose forced the health insurance agency to lower the price from P8,150 to P3,409, saving the Filipino people P9.8 billion.
Given the scope and scale of the alleged corruption within PhilHealth, Drilon said the agency stands to lose its credibility to manage about P221 billion of assets sourced from the hard-earned money of its members.
According to PhilHealth President and Chief Executive Officer Ricardo Morales in April, the total assets of PhilHealth is P221 billion.
The health insurance agency also receives a government subsidy of around P71 billion, Drilon noted.
“It is not every day that we see key officials resigning from their posts one after the other. We will get to the bottom of this. We are watching you, PhilHealth,” he warned.