Dinky testifies PhilHealth cards used to swing votes for GMA

- Katherine Adraneda -
Former social welfare secretary Corazon "Dinky" Soliman disclosed yesterday that the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) participated in the distribution of health cards to indigent families to swing votes for President Arroyo in the May 2004 elections.

Soliman, who took the witness stand in the fourth session of the Citizens’ Congress for Truth and Accountability (CCTA) at the University of Makati, made the disclosure as she also publicly apologized for "betraying public trust" during her stint in government service under the Arroyo administration.

"I have come here today to account for my own actions because I think it’s time... to begin to own up to our part in this situation that we find ourselves in. It is time to look at ourselves and to say to the public as public servants before what we have done in terms of betraying public trust," Soliman said.

"I have come to realize that my actions, as a public servant (during) my time in the DSWD, (had) its good points. But during the campaign, in my fear that another actor would become president — Mr. Fernando Poe Jr. — I was party to actions that betrayed public trust as a public servant," she added.

Soliman revealed that the DSWD generated the names of indigent families who should become recipients of the PhilHealth cards, which were distributed in areas where support for Mrs. Arroyo was perceived as "weak" and the rival candidate was considered "strong."

Soliman’s statement followed earlier testimony by an overseas workers’ group that claimed the distribution of PhilHealth cards was illegal since it was funded from the Overseas Workers’ Welfare Administration (OWWA) Fund, which is supported by the contributions of overseas Filipino workers.

Maita Santiago, secretary general of Migrante International, testified before the people’s court that a migrant worker pays an OWWA membership fee of $25 per contract before leaving the country and P900 in OWWA-Medicare contributions yearly.

Aside from the fee and contribution, Santiago said the OWWA also rakes in profits from its commercial investments using the OWWA fund.

In 2004, close to a million Filipino workers were deployed to other countries.

Santiago revealed that Mrs. Arroyo transferred all functions of the former Medicare and all funds from OWWA to PhilHealth through Executive Order 182 on Feb. 14, 2003.

She claimed that the PhilHealth cards, which bear the image of Mrs. Arroyo, were used as the President’s election campaign materials in the 2004 polls as the distribution of health cards occurred during the campaign period.

Health Secretary Francisco Duque, former PhilHealth chief, however, ruled out any anomaly in the distribution of health cards in 2004, saying that it was the responsibility of the government to provide the people with health cards regardless of timing.

He said the provision of health cards to indigent families was a priority of the Arroyo administration and, in fact, it was able to distribute eight million cards in 2003, up from just two and a half million in 2002.

"We prioritized health insurance in this country because we thought the protective social security program that we believe our indigent sector must be provided with should be the first order of the day," Duque said, adding it was unfortunate that the perception was they were distributed as campaign materials for the President.

"PhilHealth was mandated to a coverage with bias for the indigents," he said. "We had the funds and we could not say that they should not get sick during election time."

Social Welfare Secretary Lualhati Pablo confirmed that the beneficiaries were from the poorest of the barangays.

Soliman, the 16th witness in the mock trial of the President, also said in her testimony that there were certain Cabinet meetings wherein Mrs. Arroyo’s status in the election campaign was discussed, including sessions on "campaign strategy" such as government programs meant to ensure Mrs. Arroyo’s victory in the last elections.— With Aurea Calica

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