PhilHealth

Duterte orders probe into PhilHealth ‘anomalies’

Pia Ranada
Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque says a virtual meeting took place where Cabinet members and Senator Bong Go ask PhilHealth officials about various concerns

President Rodrigo Duterte has ordered Malacañang undersecretary Melchor Quitain to probe the state health insurer, Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth), for “alleged anomalies,” Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque Roque announced on Friday, July 24.

In earlier media interviews that day, Roque said among the issues covered by the investigation is the information technology (IT) system PhilHealth plans to procure, supposedly for P2 billion, which some its board members oppose.

“If your question is, does the President know? He does. That’s why he gave authority to [Undersecretary] Quitain to investigate,” said Roque.

The Senate is expected to probe the alleged “unabated corruption” in PhilHealth when it resumes session next week.

Zoom meeting with Cabinet members, Bong Go

The Duterte spokesman also confirmed that a Zoom meeting took place in which Duterte Cabinet officials and Senator Bong Go discussed issues and controversies faced by the PhilHealth with its top officials.

Roque did not want to confirm if a “shouting match” took place during the meeting. But he said he was invited by Go to attend it and that PhilHealth President and CEO Ricardo Morales was “physically” present.

Kasi akala ko diyan, noong naimbita ako ni Senator Bong Go for the meeting, akala ko kami lang ni General Morales at saka siguro si Secretary Duque. So nagulat na lang ako na the entire board was there. Para siyang board meeting na unofficial,” he said in an interview with DZBB on Friday, July 24.

(What I thought was, when I was invited by Senator Bong Go for the meeting, that it would just be me and General Morales, and maybe Secretary Duque. So I was surprised when the entire board was there. It was like a board meeting but unofficial.)

Morales has not responded to Rappler’s queries for comment. This article will be updated with his reply.

According to Roque, Cabinet members present were Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III, Budget Secretary Wendel Avisado, and Health Secretary Francisco Duque III.

Go, though no longer a member of the executive branch, is Duterte’s longtime aide who continues to attend meetings with the President and exert influence over the Cabinet.

Also present was doctor Susan Mercado, an expert panel member of the PhilHealth board, said Roque.

The spokesman said he himself brought up concerns about PhilHealth’s interim reimbursement mechanism where hospitals all over the country are given advance payment to cover COVID-19 treatment of its members. Hospitals would then only have to reimburse the expenses.

“I spoke up on the interim reimbursment mechanism and I told everyone that I have documents that show PhilHealth gave P300 million to Region V and P300 million to Region VII for COVID-19. The problem is, there were not that many cases in those regions,” said Roque in Filipino.

He supposedly asked PhilHealth officials why the funds were not given to Metro Manila, where cases were high.

Roque has a feud with Morales which began when the PhilHealth chief asked Congress if it would be possible to delay the implementation of the Universal Health Care law. The delay would give time for PhilHealth to resolve the shortfall in PhilHealth funds caused by the pandemic where many of its members were unable to make contributions.

Roque took strong exception to the statement, invested as he is with the success of the Universal Health Care law, which he helped craft when he was a lawmaker. – Rappler.com

Pia Ranada

Pia Ranada is a senior reporter for Rappler covering Philippine politics and environmental issues. For tips and story suggestions, email her at pia.ranada@rappler.com.