Senate starts probe on PhilHealth tomorrow
The controversy has also revived calls for the resignation of Health Secretary Francisco Duque III, who chairs PhilHealth under the law creating the agency.
Philhealth FB Page/File
Senate starts probe on PhilHealth tomorrow
Paolo Romero (The Philippine Star) - August 3, 2020 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — The Senate will start tomorrow its inquiry into the alleged corruption in the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth) involving at least P1 billion in funds of the cash-strapped state agency.

The Senate committee of the whole the entire chamber convening itself into one panel will be conducting the probe as public dissatisfaction mounts over the government’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, including the failure to provide financial assistance for the medical care of those infected.

Testifying at the hearing will be at least three whistleblowers, whom senators said may need witness protection as the alleged corruption appears to have reached the top echelons of PhilHealth and the Department of Health (DOH).

The controversy has also revived calls for the resignation of Health Secretary Francisco Duque III, who chairs PhilHealth under the law creating the agency.

“We have witnesses who are willing to testify and detail the pervasive and deep-rooted corruption in the PhilHealth,” Sen. Panfilo Lacson said in a statement last week.

He said the probe “will reveal the same cast of characters, or at least a number of them, that we already exposed in a Senate inquiry in August last year” after he made an expose entitled “PhilHealth and the Department of Wealth” on July 29, 2019.

He expressed belief “the syndicate is back with a vengeance – or at least its core group has never left.”

“It is revolting to see the PhilHealth mafia very much active and still in control of the already depleted resources of agency, made worse by blatant manipulation of its financial statements. They must have mastered the art of influence peddling as they seem to continue to gain access to the ‘corridors of power,’” he said.

The expected starting point of the probe will be the P2.1-billion information technology project of PhilHealth that was flagged by the Commission on Audit as well as the reported advance payments to several hospitals for coronavirus disease patients worth hundreds of millions of pesos despite few cases in these hospitals.

The issue also prompted Sen. Sonny Angara to call for a special audit of PhilHealth, noting the agency appears to be at risk of being insolvent in just a few years.

Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon earlirer said the probe must be conducted immediately as P221 billion in public funds handled by PhilHealth must be protected.

“The high degree of corruption within PhilHealth must be stopped. It has reached a level akin to a state of emergency,” Drilon said.

“The administration cannot just sweep it in under the rug. This should be immediately investigated,” he said.

He said he was no longer surprised by the allegations given the past history of PhilHealth, citing the issues of “ghost dialysis patients” and “ghost cataract patients” that hounded the agency.

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