Arroyo on PhilHealth card issue: I only implemented law

- Marichu A. Villanueva () - March 12, 2004 - 12:00am
STA. ROSA, Laguna — The President cannot be disqualified from the elections for implementing the law.

President Arroyo yesterday said the Commission on Elections (Comelec) cannot disqualify her from the race for the presidency for distributing Philippine Health Insurance (PhilHealth) cards, which carry her photo, to indigent families nationwide as mandated by law.

The President maintains she has not violated any election campaign rules by implementing the Philippine Health Insurance Act of 1995. As a senator, Mrs. Arroyo was one of the principal authors of the health insurance act when it was passed by Congress.

"We’ve been (distributing PhilHealth cards) since 2001 on a very large scale and we were able to reach majority of the families, which is one of the achievements of my administration," she said.

"Yes, it has been a great help to (indigent families) and that is what the law provides for — a shared universal health insurance," the President said. "So why should I be disqualified for implementing the law?"

In her latest campaign sortie, the second in Laguna province since the campaign period began, the President ignored the statement made by Comelec spokesman Ferdinand Rafanan that her distribution of the PhilHealth cards may be considered a possible violation of the Comelec’s campaign rules and regulations.

Rafanan made his statement after lawyers calling themselves the Pro-con group filed a criminal complaint against PhilHealth chief Dr. Francisco Duque and Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) chairwoman Livia "Honeygirl" de Leon for illegal distribution of campaign materials — the PhilHealth cards bearing the President’s photo — during Mrs. Arroyo’s campaign sorties nationwide over the past three weeks.

In apparent defiance of the formal corruption complaints filed by this group against PhilHealth and the PCSO, the President included in her campaign speeches the progress made by her administration in providing nationwide coverage under the "universal health insurance" law for all Filipino families — be they rich or poor.

The President was accompanied on her campaign stumping by several members of her Cabinet led by Interior and Local Government Secretary Jose Lina Jr., who once served as Laguna governor.

Responding to a request by a San Pedro town resident that the government set up a hospital in Laguna, the President said "there is no need to put up such a hospital in each town. You only need to have PhilHealth cards, which could entitle (you) to even go to private hospitals and be treated there for free."

She said indigent families can be enrolled under PhilHealth without having to pay the monthly P120 premium. "If your family is poor," she said, "this would be answered for by us."

The President said that Lina, as secretary of the interior and local government, "will be the one to coordinate with your local government officials to enroll you for PhilHealth cards."

The President added that her critics only noticed the distribution of the PhilHealth cards now "because it is election season."

She initially refused to comment on Rafanan’s threat to disqualify her and instead asked Lina to respond to Rafanan’s statement.

"The Comelec en banc is the (body) that makes official announcements, not their public information officer," Lina said.

When the President assumed power in January 2001, Lina said, the PCSO was already helping implement the "health for all" policy under the Philippine Health Insurance Act to help financially depressed local government units (LGUs) by working to provide indigents with PhilHealth cards.

By the end of 2003, "this increased by 15 million members," Lina said. "There is now a total of 18 million members" covered by PhilHealth.

Malacañang also came to the President’s defense, as her campaign spokesman, Michael Defensor, said in a radio interview that there have been several requests by local government executives for the President to personally hand out the PhilHealth cards. — With Marvin Sy, Rene Alviar, Nikko Dizon

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