Ex-Philhealth officials, 'Mindanao group' trade allegations at Senate hearing
MANILA, Philippines – Former officials of the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation and members of the so-called "Mindanao group" in Philhealth on Wednesday, August 14, traded allegations during a Senate hearing on reported irregularities in the government agency.
At the Senate blue ribbon committee hearing on Wednesday, former Philhealth president Roy Ferrer alleged that there was an influential "mafia" in Philhealth. (WATCH: Senate hearing on Philhealth, DOH corruption allegations)
Ferrer refused to name the members of the group. When panel chair Senator Richard Gordon saw Ferrer repeatedly turning to former Philhealth board member Roberto Salvador for details regarding the group, the senator directed his questions to him instead.
After the Senate panel granted Salvador's request for immunity, he named the following as the members of the Mindanao group, though not all of them were from the region:
- Valerie Hollero - Assistant corporate secretary
- Paolo Johann Perez - Mimaropa regional vice president
- William Chavez - Former Central Visayas regional vice president
- Khaliquzzaman Macabato - Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao regional vice president
- Dennis Adre - Soccsksargen regional vice president
- Jelbert Galicto - Caraga office legal officer
- Masidling Alonto - Northern Mindanao regional vice president
- Miriam Grace G. Pamonag - Dismissed Soccsksargen regional vice president
Salvador clarified that the group earned the Philhealth "mafia" tag not because of criminal activities but because of its "influence" and clout. Its members had been serving Philhealth from 6 to 20 years.
Salvador said that a report conducted by a fact-finding mission found that the hospitals under the jurisdictions of those tagged had alleged fraudulent claims.
"Ang ginawa namin nag-visit kami. Inutusan namin ang fact-finding na mag-surprise visit sa may possible fraud na hindi nirereport ng RVPs (regional vice presidents). Ten out 10 na ospital, positive may fraudulent claims. May report po tayo," Salvador said.
(What we did was we conducted a visit. We ordered a fact-finding mission to conduct surprise visits to hospitals with possible fraudulent claims that were not reported by the RVPs. Ten out of 10 hospitals are positive, they have fraudulent claims. We have a report on that.)
Salvador said that newly-appointed Philhealth President Ricardo Morales and Labor Undersecretary Jacinto Paras, an ex-officio member of the Philhealth board, were copy-furnished with the report.
The former board member said that the existence of the mafia was "open knowledge" in the agency, and that even President Rodrigo Duterte knew about them.
Salvador claimed that the Mindanao group was very influential, and "bragged" that it was responsible for the fate of former health chief Paulyn Jean Ubial, former Philhealth chief Celestina dela Serna, Ferrer, and former members of the Philhealth board – including himself – whom Duterte had asked to resign.
Salvador claimed the members of the group were "untouchable" and supposedly used their influence to be spared from revamps.
The tagged members of the Mindanao group, except for Pamonag, were also present during the hearing and took turns denying the accusations before the Senate panel.
Hollero, Perez, Macabato, and Adre claimed that they were the ones who were "active" in flagging fraudulent claims and yet "absurd" cases were filed against them.
Hollero said that the cases were based on such ridiculous grounds as not being able to log in for their daily time record. For this, she faced a case of dishonesty and was suspended for 90 days.
Adre said that they were being linked to the Philhealth mess because they were "crusading against the wrong policies of Philhealth." He added that he even sent an email to Health Secretary Francisco Duque III to share his recommendation against fraud within the agency.
But Duque, during the hearing, said he would like to put on record that he "cannot recall" such exchange with Adre.
In response, Adre alleged that Duque as Philhealth chief ordered them to disburse millions of free Philhealth cards to help then-president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo's reelection bid in 2004.
The group took exception to being tagged as a "mafia" as its members were not involved in any irregularities in Philhealth but said it was the risk of fighting irregularities in the agency.
"We are standing up for the truth. If we’re going to be called mafia for it, so be it," Hollero said.
Gordon said that the problems within the agency had to be solved quickly as the implementation of the Universal Health Care Law would mean higher monthly contributions from Philhealth members.
"The wings of Philhealth are broken," he said, as he expressed concern that the "baggage" created by problems in the agency would mean a "loss of confidence in a system" that lawmakers created, referring to the Universal Health Care law.
"You're changing presidents every year. There's something wrong in there definitely. We're not here to headhunt. We're looking at this to cure the system. The system is far important than any of you individuals to be very frank," Gordon said in his closing statement at the hearing.
He said that the panel would discuss the details of the allegations in the next hearing on August 27.
"We want to make sure that we go about this in a very fair, objective, and deliberate way. So we assure that you come out with those evidence of hospitals with misconduct that we will follow through and at the same time to make necessary amendments to the legislation," he said.
The Senate blue ribbon committee hearing set the probe after Senator Panfilo Lacson's privilege speech where he raised alleged irregularities in the Department of Health and Philhealth. – Rappler.com