Senators repeat call for Duque’s resignation in final report on PhilHealth mess

JC Gotinga
The Senate officially adopts the probe report recommending criminal complaints against Health Secretary Francisco Duque III, former PhilHealth chief Ricardo Morales, and other PhilHealth executives

Senators on Monday, September 7, repeated a call for the resignation of Health Secretary Francisco Duque III, as part of their final report on their investigation of alleged massive corruption in the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth).

The Senate approved on 2nd reading the committee of the whole’s report that recommended the filing of graft and malversation complaints against Duque, former PhilHealth president and chief executive officer Ricardo Morales, and a few other PhilHealth officials. The report also recommended the replacement of Duque as health secretary.

The final report approved on Monday included additional recommendations from several senators.

Senator Panfilo Lacson added a recommendation for Duque to “heed the call” of 14 senators who earlier signed a resolution urging the health chief to resign for “failure of leadership, negligence, lack of foresight, inefficiency in the performance of his mandate, resulting in poor planning, delayed response, lack of transparency, and misguided policies in addressing the COVID-19 pandemic.”

As health chief, Duque is the ex-officio chairperson of PhilHealth.

“Evidence of conflict of interest and perceived tolerance of the massive corruption in PhilHealth under his chairmanship leaves him with no decent option but to resign,” stated Lacson’s recommendation as read out by Senate President Vicente Sotto III.

Lacson also added to the final report the mention of “at least 631 counts of malversation of public funds or property” against Duque, Morales, and PhilHealth executives Renato Limsiaco Jr and Israel Pargas. The Senate report cited Article 217 of the Revised Penal Code as basis for indicting Duque for his alleged “negligence” that allowed for the illegal disbursement of more than P14 billion in PhilHealth funds under the Interim Reimbursement Mechanism.

In a separate statement, Senator Francis Pangilinan urged Malacañang to “replace” Duque as chairperson of the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases, which leads the government’s response to the pandemic.

“[Duque] is damaged goods, and cannot hope to be able to effectively lead the country’s already faltering anti-COVID campaign. It is long overdue for Malacañang to show decisive leadership and political will by firing Duque and revamping the IATF,” Pangilinan said.

Among other recommendations added to the Senate’s final report were:

  • for the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Ombudsman to investigate “probable collusion” between PhilHealth officials and private individuals in fraudulent schemes
  • investigation and prosecution of all parties involved in the overpricing of COVID-19 testing kits
  • for the DOJ to grant legal immunity to witnesses who would testify against “erring and corrupt” PhilHealth officials, provided they are not the party most guilty of the alleged crime
  • to amend the National Health Insurance Act to make the finance secretary the ex-officio chairperson of PhilHealth instead of the health secretary
  • to implement a redundancy program in PhilHealth to streamline its personnel and adapt its workforce to focus on accreditation and provider payment or reimbursement
  • to continuously update PhilHealth’s All-Case-Rate system to accurately reflect current costs of hospital treatment for every common illness

With the approval of the final report, the Senate gave its full endorsement of the recommendations, which will be relayed to the DOJ and the Ombudsman, whose separate investigations of the PhilHealth mess are expected to result in prosecutions of erring officials. –

JC Gotinga

JC Gotinga often reports about the West Philippine Sea, the communist insurgency, and terrorism as he covers national defense and security for Rappler. He enjoys telling stories about his hometown, Pasig City. JC has worked with Al Jazeera, CNN Philippines, News5, and CBN Asia.