PhilHealth

House panel eyes ‘emergency powers’ for Duterte to reform PhilHealth

Mara Cepeda
(3rd UPDATE) Health Secretary Francisco Duque III backs the House proposal to grant emergency powers to the President to reform the state health insurer

The House panel investigating alleged anomalies at the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth) is “inclined” to recommend granting President Rodrigo Duterte “emergency powers” to address the rampant corruption in the government agency.

House committee on public accounts chair Mike Defensor said this on Wednesday, September 2, as the panel continued its inquiry into the embattled state health insurer. He said this recommendation will form part of the upcoming committee report on the House probe.

“The committee is inclined and we are discussing about the emergency powers to be granted to the President,” Defensor said as his panel and the committee on good government and public accountability resumed their investigation on alleged anomalies at PhilHealth

Present during the hearing was DOH Secretary Francisco Duque III, who is also the ex-officio chairman of PhilHealth.

Asked if he agreed with the proposal to give Duterte emergency powers to reform PhilHealth, Duque told Defensor: “Opo. Maganda po ang inyong panukala na bigyan  po ng karagdagang kapangyarihan si Pangulong Duterte para mas maging mabilis ang reporma [sa] PhilHealth.”

(Yes. That’s a good proposal, to give additional powers to President Duterte to hasten the reforms in PhilHealth.)

Justice Undersecretary Adrian Sugay, who was at the hearing, also said the Department of Justice supports the panel’s initiative, when Defensor asked him.

Defensor later told reporters in a Viber message that their proposed emergency powers bill would allow Duterte to reorganize PhilHealth and clean its ranks.

“Power to reorganize is critical. [It is] also to hire personnel and/or 3rd party providers for audit, legal, public health, and finance [matters]. It will be limited like all emergency powers,” he said.

Defensor cited Republic Act No. 7648 or the Electric Power Crisis Act of 1993 as a precedent. The law authorized the administration of then-President Fidel Ramos to negotiate contracts and reorganize the National Power Corporation, to address the crippling power crisis.

‘Questionable’ proposal

Former Government Corporate Counsel (GCC) Rudolf Philip Jurado said such a proposal is “questionable.”

“Questionable ‘yan (That’s questionable). No need to grant the President emergency powers to reorganize/reform the PHilhealth,” Jurado said.

“The President, upon the recommendation of GCC, can reorganize, and privatize, and abolish Philhealth,” he added.

The House resumed its inquiry into alleged anomalies in PhilHealth a day after senators recommended the filing of charges against Duque, resigned PhilHealth president and chief executive Ricardo Morales, and other top officials over the alleged rampant corruption in the agency. 

Speaking before the House panel on Wednesday, Duque denied what he called the senators’ “baseless” accusations against him.

“The Senate made baseless findings on mere allegations alone…. I am for zero tolerance on crime and corruption,” he said.

The separate investigations in the House and the Senate revealed widespread corruption in PhilHealth – from the alleged “illegal” releases under the now-suspended Interim Reimbursement Mechanism (IRM) and the multibillion-peso overpayments in the case rate packages for insurance claims. (READ: CHEAT SHEET: Alleged PhilHealth anomalies uncovered in Congress probes)

Several top ranking PhilHealth officials have since resigned from their posts, while the Office of the Ombudsman had preventively suspended 13 PhilHealth officials amid the corruption allegations.

Duterte now wants former National Bureau of Investigation chief Dante Gierran to lead PhilHealth, even if the latter lacked the qualifications for the post. Gierran himself had also said that he had no expertise in public health. – Rappler.com

Mara Cepeda

Mara Cepeda specializes in stories about politics and local governance. She covers the Office of the Vice President, the Senate, and the Philippine opposition. She is a 2021 fellow of the Asia Journalism Fellowship and the Reham al-Farra Memorial Journalism Fellowship of the UN. Got tips? Email her at mara.cepeda@rappler.com or tweet @maracepeda.