Hontiveros on PhilHealth controversy: Where is Duque in all this?

Bella Perez-Rubio - Philstar.com
Hontiveros on PhilHealth controversy: Where is Duque in all this?
File photo of Health Secretary Francisco Duque III
The STAR / Mong Pintolo

MANILA, Philippines — As the Senate on Tuesday resumed its probe into allegations of corruption, irregularities, and mismanagement within PhilHealth, Sen. Risa Hontiveros questioned Health Secretary Francisco Duque III's role in the controversies surrounding the state-run agency.

"To what degree is Secretary Duque involved? Why is the secretary unscathed in all of this? [Since] 2001, Secretary Duque has always had some connection to PhilHealth," Hontiveros said in a mix of English and Filipino.

"With his long history in the institution, Duque cannot feign ignorance of this systemic corruption," she added.

Hontiveros further listed Duque's positions at the state-run agency throughout the years as its president, chairman of the board, member of the board and the current chairman of the board, again, at present.

She also tweeted an infographic which illustrated the numerous issues surrounding PhilHealth throughout the same period of time.

The most recently noted controversies were in 2018, when the Commission on Audit flagged an "excessive and unauthorized" P7.89 million in the agency's representation and transportation allowance, and in 2019, which saw graft and plunder complaints filed against Duque for allegedly renting land belonging to his family to a PhilHelath provincial office.

Last week, former Philippine Health Insurance Corp. anti-fraud legal officer Thorrsson Keith alleged that executives of the state firm 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 told the Senate in Filipino.

READ: Hontiveros scores Uson's Facebook blog for spreading old rumors about her | Whistleblower accuses PhilHealth execs of stealing P15 billion through fraud schemes

"Personally, as sick and tired as I am of having to correct 'fake news' from four years ago linking me to PhilHealth irregularities, I am even more sick and tired of the fact that in the middle of the largest health crisis ever to hit our country, nobody is being held accountable for the largest amount of allegedly corrupted funds in PhilHealth's history," Hontiveros said.

She further claimed that a past PhilHealth chief alerted Duque to the corrupt behavior of several PhilHealth executives.

"He was also allegedly informed about the PhilHealth 'mafia' by former [PhilHealth chief Roy] Ferrer, so he cannot feign ignorance. Tama na. Let's get to the bottom of this. If we want structural change, alugin natin. Expose the sacred cows. Expose the conflicts. Most of all, expose the backers," the senator said.

These allegations of corruption against officials of the state-run health insurer are unfolding as the country faces a crisis of epic proportions brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Monday saw another record-breaking high of almost 7,000 new infections among Filipinos, while almost 3,000 new cases logged on Tuesday upped the national caseload to 139, 538.

At the urging of medical frontliners who said they were increasingly overwhelmed by the surge in COVID-19 cases, President Rodrigo Duterte reverted Metro Manila and nearby provinces to a stricter modified enhanced community quarantine until at least August 18.

Tuesday marks the 147th day that the country has been under community quarantine — the longest in the world.




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