(UPDATED) The Senate will open another investigation of alleged massive corruption in the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth) following the resignation of the state insurer’s anti-fraud legal officer.
Senator Panfilo Lacson and Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon on Friday, July 24, made separate calls for a legislative probe.
In a statement, Lacson said he is drafting a resolution calling for an inquiry by the Senate Committee of the Whole, which will be one of the Senate’s “top agenda” when it resumes its regular session on Monday, July 27.
“Unabated corruption and mismanagement of PhilHealth funds has been a topic of discussion among Senate President Vicente Sotto III and me, along with some senators from the majority bloc, for quite some time now,” Lacson said.
“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.
Senate President Vicente Sotto III said that the latest developments call for “a full-blown Senate investigation.”
“Allegations and denials abound. Therefore, diligence is necessary,” Sotto said.
“Where there is smoke, there is fire,” he added.
Sources who declined to be identified told reporters Thursday night, July 23, that PhilHealth president Ricardo Morales and several board members had a heated argument at a very recent Zoom meeting during which corruption in the agency became apparent.
This was followed by the resignation of PhilHealth anti-fraud legal officer Thorrsson Montes Keith, citing “widespread corruption” in the agency as one of his reasons. PhilHealth has asked Keith to “substantiate” his allegations.
At least two other PhilHealth officials have resigned or are planning to resign, the sources said.
‘State of emergency’
“The high degree of corruption within PhilHealth must be stopped. It has reached a level akin to a state of emergency,” said Drilon, adding that the Senate should prioritize an “immediate” investigation when it resumes session on Monday.
“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.
PhilHealth receives a government subsidy of around P71 billion, the opposition senator noted.
In a Senate hearing in May, Drilon questioned Morales over PhilHealth’s alleged “overpriced” P8,150 testing package for COVID-19. Two weeks later, PhilHealth released a new COVID-19 testing package, with the price scaled down to P3,409.
In 2019, the Senate probed allegations of scams by the state health insurer, such as nonexistent dialysis and cataract patients on its record.
Morales, a retired military general, was then appointed PhilHealth president to clean up the agency.
“We had high hopes the shenanigans at PhilHealth would end with a new leadership. Sad to say, how wrong we were,” Lacson said.
“That such corruption occurred amid the COVID-19 crisis makes it more disgusting and abominable. Nakakasuya na, sobra (It’s become too sickening),” he added.
“Our health sector is crumbling and these controversies made things even worse. This is too much. We are in a pandemic where people are getting infected, over 2,000 have died, over 5 million Filipino families are starving, 5 million lost their jobs, and our economy is on the verge of recession. And yet, here we have PhilHealth in total disarray today because of corruption,” Drilon said.
“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 added.
‘Fire, charge, jail’
Opposition Senator Francis Pangilinan challenged the Duterte administration to take swift action on the matter.
“If the Duterte government is serious in prioritizing the safety of the people, it will immediately terminate, charge with plunder, and jail all those involved in the PhilHealth anomaly. This is the real political will we want to see, not fake bluster,” Pangilinan said in a statement.
Senator Risa Hontiveros, former PhilHealth board member and also with the opposition, said the government needs to ensure the agency is clean, and that public funds are spent on the public.
“Kung may napatunayang tiwali at sinasamantala ang pandemya para kumita, dapat lang na panagutin sa batas (If anyone is proven corrupt and taking advantage of the pandemic to make money, they should be answerable to the law),” she added.
“Why do [PhilHealth] funds deplete so fast? And why are there, at the same time, so many complaints from hospitals that they are not being reimbursed promptly?” Senator Koko Pimentel said, echoing calls for an investigation.
In a statement on Friday, Senator Sonny Angara said the Commission on Audit should run a special audit of PhilHealth. The Senate may also reopen last year’s investigation of the agency’s finances, he added.
In a separate statement, Senator Joel Villanueva said he would support any move to investigate PhilHealth.
“We cannot ignore the stench of corruption, especially during the pandemic. If the allegations are true, this is an unconscionable betrayal of public trust,” he said. – Rappler.com