Sotto, Lacson slam Duterte’s defense of Duque

JC Gotinga
Sotto, Lacson slam Duterte’s defense of Duque

Through the barriers: Senate President Vicente Sotto III (left) chats with Sen. Panfilo Lacson before the start of the Senate Committee of the Whole hybrid hearing looking into the alleged widespread corruption at the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth) Tuesday, August 11, 2020. (Joseph Vidal/Senate PRIB)

‘Ano, wala siya kinalaman? Aba, congrats! Billions!’ says Senate President Vicente Sotto III after President Rodrigo Duterte thumbed down calls for Health Secretary Francisco Duque III to resign

Senate President Vicente Sotto III and Senator Panfilo Lacson criticized the decision of President Rodrigo Duterte to clear Health Secretary Francisco Duque III of involvement in alleged anomalies at the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth), which the Cabinet official chairs.

Sotto and Lacson led the Senate investigation into alleged massive corruption at PhilHealth. Findings from the probe led the Senate to recommend corruption complaints against Duque, and reiterate calls for his resignation.

Reacting to Duterte’s reiteration of his “full trust” in Duque, Sotto said in a tweet on Tuesday, September 8: “Board governs PhilHealth. They disburse P14.8 billion in 3 pandemic months illegally. DOH Secretary is unmistakably and irreplaceably [its] chair. Ano, wala siyang kinalaman? Aba, congrats (What, he had no involvement? Why, congrats)! Billions!”

Sotto was referring to the P14.8 billion in PhilHealth funds released through the now-suspended Interim Reimbursement Mechanism (IRM) before June 11 – the date the program took legal effect. Besides the timing of the releases, the IRM has come under question for its alleged “inequitable” implementation.

In its official report based on the probe, the Senate said Duque may have been guilty of malversation for his “negligence,” in that billions of pesos in illegal fund releases happened under his watch – regardless of whether or not he directly ordered them.

Lacson also expressed disappointment over the President’s continued defense of Duque.

“With his appointed chief investigator to his right and one of those being accused in the PhilHealth mess to his left, he cleared the accused of any wrongdoing. End of story,” Lacson tweeted on Tuesday.

Lacson meant Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra, who sat on the right side of the long table where Duterte gave his televised address, and Duque, who was opposite Guevarra.

Guevarra is leading a separate investigation into the PhilHealth mess.

In another tweet on Tuesday, Lacson responded to Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr, who had echoed Duterte’s defense of Duque.

“So far the evidence points at the career civil service. Charge them first. Or Duque’s replacement will inherit career criminals. And business as usual,” Locsin said in a tweet.

Lacson tweeted in response to Locsin, “We may be expecting too much from ‘career criminals’ when they are aware that their ‘bosing’s’ family corporation was supplying  pharmaceutical products to DOH and leasing their property to PhilHealth – agencies their ‘bosing’ heads. Good or bad, leadership by example counts.”

In July 2019, Lacson said Duque’s family had leased a building in Pangasinan to PhilHealth, while their drug manufacturing firm continued to bid for – and to secure – government contracts.

At the time, Lacson noted Duque’s conflict of interest, and the ethical ramifications of his family’s dealings with the government.

The Senate’s findings also tagged former PhilHealth president and CEO Ricardo Morales and several other PhilHealth executives as possibly complicit in anomalies that have bled the state insurer billions of pesos over the years.

Lacson earlier said the Senate probe may not have gathered enough evidence to establish whether Duque had a direct hand in the anomalies. However, Sotto insisted that under the law, Duque, as ex-officio chairperson of PhilHealth, is culpable for any embezzlement of public funds that may occur because of his negligence.

Besides, the Senate President said he doubts Duque’s claim of ignorance about the irregularities plaguing PhilHealth. –

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.