Senate kicks off PhilHealth probe

THE Senate, convened as Committee of the Whole, started its probe into alleged rampant corruption, irregularities and inefficiencies in Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (Philhealth).

The inquiry was initiated through resolutions filed by Senate President Vicente Sotto III and Senators Panfilo Lacson,  Kiko Pangilinan and Leila de Lima as allegations of widespread corruption in PhilHealth gained traction following a controversial meeting of PhilHealth officials and members of President Rodrigo Duterte’s Cabinet.

In his opening speech as the vice chairman of the committee, Lacson said the story of corruption in the agency revolves around the same high ranking officials who manage to hog their seats despite the reported anomalies.

"PhilHealth is a murky, stinking swamp that many of its good and well-meaning people from the officials to their rank-and-file employees want drained, not just of some corrupt but well-entrenched officials who do not seem to run out of malevolent schemes to enrich themselves but of a deeply rooted, mafia-like syndicate," he said.

Lacson stressed that in the middle of a global pandemic, PhilHealth continues to face a train of anomalies citing the agency’s overpriced ICT equipment; manipulation of financial statements; and highly irregular implementation of advanced payments to health care institutions through the Interim Reimbursement Mechanism policy, among other corrupt practices.

Meanwhile, PhilHealth President Ricardo Morales in his opening statement said PhilHealth could have lost P10.2 billion due to fraud in 2019 and this could double to P18 billion by next year should the issue of alleged irregularities in the corporation remain unaddressed.

Morales said a study conducted last year found that fraudulent cases comprise 7.5% of the total, which compares with the global average of 10 to 20%.

"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.

Because of this problem, Morales said PhilHealth should be helped instead of mocked.

"Marami pong dapat ayusin sa PhilHealth. PhilHealth needs help. It has taken too many body blows. Tulungan ho natin ang PhilHealth. Kung maari ho, 'wag pagtulungan," he said.  

Promotions questioned

Sen. Francis “Tol” Tolentino questioned the head of thePhilhealth for not implementing President Duterte’s order calling for the resignation of the corporation’s senior vice president and board members to pave way for its cleansing.

“There was a directive coming from President Duterte sa lahat ng PhilHealth vice presidents to tender their courtesy resignation, was there a consequential action from the PhilHealth board requiring the VPs to quit,” Tolentino asked PhilHealth chief Morales.

In his reply, Morales said there was a Board resolution regarding the resignation of key officials, but it only reached the board members and not the vice presidents.

The PhilHealth CEO added he exercised discretion because the agency couldn't function if all vice presidents would resign, adding that no cases have been filed against them.

“Kailangan po na maipaliwanag ito dahil ang sabi nyo mapa-paralyze kayo pag nawala sila eh pero na-promote pa?” Tolentino stressed, adding that the non-implementation of a board resolution is a clear legal violation.

“Paano mangyayari ang hinihinging paglilinis at reporma sa Philhealth kung hindi sinunod ang utos ni Pangulong Duterte na mag-resign sila,” he said.

Tolentino also questioned the promotion of four PhilHealth officers involved in the Wellmed dialysis scam last year.

The senator was referring to Cheryl Peña, Dr. Rizza Majella Herrera, Dr. Bernadette Lico and lawyer Recto Panti, who were promoted to department manager III on May 18. 

“Walang tinanggal, walang na-suspend, na-promote pa,” a dismayed Tolentino said.