Amid PhilHealth scandal, Duterte urged to fulfill past promise not to tolerate 'whiff of corruption'
File photo shows Sen. Panfilo Lacson.
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Amid PhilHealth scandal, Duterte urged to fulfill past promise not to tolerate 'whiff of corruption'
Bella Perez-Rubio (Philstar.com) - August 6, 2020 - 5:57pm

MANILA, Philippines — As controversy continues to surround PhilHealth's chief and and other top officials, Sen. Ping Lacson on Thursday said he was dismayed by President Rodrigo Duterte's failure to uphold his promise that he would not tolerate even "a whiff of corruption."

"He previously said 'just a whiff of corruption,' just a faint smell, you're fired. This is not just a whiff of corruption. It's very disappointing..." Lacson said in a mix of English and Filipino during an interview with ANC.

"It's his discretion, he's the president of the Philippines...the buck stops, so they say, at his table, but when the situation is we're in a pandemic, and we hear [allegations] like this...I was shocked," he added partially in Filipino.

Former PhilHealth anti-fraud legal officer Thorrsson Keith during a Senate hearing on Tuesday alleged that executives of the state-run agency have stolen P15 billion from its funds.

"What we found at PhilHealth is the crime of the year due to the syndication of the distribution of cash advance, the interim reimbursement mechanism, and the repeated overpricing of purchased IT equipment," Keith said in Filipino.

Lacson during the hearing further compounded on this accusation, saying that the agency's Interim Reimbursement Mechanism, which is meant for healthcare institutions hit by calamitous or "fortuitous events," was not being released to the appropriate hospitals.

According to the senator, PhilHealth released "hundreds of millions" to dialysis centers and maternity care providers but could not release P19 million to the Ospital ng Maynila which was accepting COVID-19 cases.

The Ospital ng Maynila has since been temporarily closed due to a surge in COVID-19 infections among its staff.

A day after the Senate launched its probe, Malacañang said Duterte will not fire the state-run agency's chief until he has evidence of corruption.

“It goes without saying I’m disappointed. We are trying to correct or help the president do some remedial measures,” Lacson said, referring to Duterte's continued confidence in both Morales and Health Secretary Francisco Duque III.

More than half of the Senate has either called for Duque's resignation, or have called on Duterte to fire the health chief, over his alleged failed response to the COVID-19 crisis.

RELATED: Lacson again questions Duterte's decision to keep Duque as health secretary

"I hope the president will at least look at the transcript of our hearing with PhilHealth on Tuesday. He can concentrate on the responses of [Ricardo] Morales and other PhilHealth officials. Then he can judge for himself," Lacson added.

Morales on Thursday vehemently rejected allegations of corruption against him and other top executives at the state-run agency.

Lacson slams Morales' 'lame' excuses 

In a separate interview with CNN Philippines on Thursday, Lacson also slammed what he called Morales' "lame" excuse for alleged overpriced items in the agency's information technology budget.

PhilHealth board member Alejandro Cabanding accused the agency's chief of pushing for the endorsement of overpriced information technology budget items which he says amount to at least P750 million.

"There were numbers in the IT budget in financial reports that do not add up. I brought it up with the board but the most frustrating part is the management seems to be tolerating such acts," Cabanding said.

Morales during the Senate hearing responded to the listed overpriced items, such as laptops worth more than P100 million, by saying he was not an IT expert.

He also defended the robust budget by saying the improvement of the management system would aid in weeding out fraud within the agency, admitting that PhilHealth's fraud index is at 7.5%, amounting to P10.5 billion potentially lost to fraud.

Morales further excused the agency, saying that there is "no health system in the world that is entirely fraud-free."

As these allegations continue to unfurl amid the COVID-19 crisis, infections in the Philippines on Thursday reached a grim milestone.

With 3,561 additional novel coronavirus cases, bringing the national caseload to 119, 460, the Philippines has surpassed Indonesia as the worst-hit country in Southeast Asia.

COVID-19 NOVEL CORONAVIRUS PHILIPPINE HEALTH INSURANCE CORPORATION
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