Duque on PhilHealth mess: 'I am for zero tolerance of fraud and corruption'
Screengrab taken August 18 2020, shows Health Secretary Francisco Duque III virtually attending the Senate's probe into alleged corruption and mismanagement at PhilHealth.
Philstar.com screengrab
Duque on PhilHealth mess: 'I am for zero tolerance of fraud and corruption'
Bella Perez-Rubio (Philstar.com) - August 18, 2020 - 11:48am

MANILA, Philippines — Health Secretary Francisco Duque III, who also sits as the Chairman of the Board at PhilHealth, on Tuesday denied that he condoned any fraud or corruption at the state-run insurer.

"I am for zero tolerance of fraud and corruption," Duque told the Senate, as it conducted the third hearing in its probe into alleged corruption and mismanagement against officials of PhilHealth.

He denied allegations that 300 PhilHealth accredited hospitals' claims were not paid, saying that only hospitals with insufficient requirements are denied payment.

Duque also denied alleged overpricing in the controversial information technology budget proposal of the agency, saying no money has been disbursed for it so far.

He also reiterated a defense made by other PhilHealth officials, regarding allegations of favoritism or impropriety in the agency's disbursement of its Interim Reimbursement Mechanism, which is meant for calamitous events.

According to Duque, IRM payments are permissible "as long as the [healthcare institutions] have clear and apparent intent to continuously operate or rebuild in order to provide continuous healthcare services to adversely affected Filipinos."

"Its like repositioning funds in target areas so that reimbursement of claims is easier for [HCIs] during the pandemic when funds from the national office can be difficult to access," he added.

Sen. Ping Lacson previously alleged that 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.

This week's hearing marks Duque's first appearance in the Senate's investigation into the state-run agency.

As the upper chamber probed claims by former PhilHealth anti-fraud legal officer Thorrsson Keith that executives have stolen P15 billion from the agency's funds, many senators questioned Duque's role in the alleged fraud schemes unearthed in the last few weeks.

Drilon hits Duque's leadership on COVID-19 response

In his opening remarks, Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon was quick to acknowledge Duque's presence — taking the opportunity to criticize his performance at the helm of the country's health response to COVID-19.

According to Drilon, Duque's lack of a sense of urgency has resulted in the deaths of many Filipinos.

The minority leader further referenced a previous Senate resolution urging Duque's resignation, which was signed by almost half of the upper chamber, saying that he withheld his signature at the time but has since changed his mind.

"I did not sign the resolution... because I wanted to give Secretary Duque a chance, I wanted to see him perform, sadly... On the basis of what we have seen in our hearings... the performance of Mr Duque did not justify my non-signing, sad to say," Drilon said.

"The poor health management has resulted in the longest lock[down] in the world, and unfortunately, our Secretary of [Health] has failed to manage its pandemic and its curve," he added, further citing latest DOH data which places the country's COVID-19 caseload at 164,474 and deaths at 2,681.

He also hit Duque for dragging his feet on issuing a travel ban on travelers from China in the early days of the pandemic — something that Sen. Lacson often criticizes the health secretary for, as well. 

Amid the investigations being conducted by the Senate, the House, the Ombudsman and an inter-agency task force led by the Justice Department, PhilHealth chief Ricardo Morales has taken a medical leave while six other officers have filed for a leave of absence at the urging of the justice secretary.

The PACC on August 3 submitted a report on the findings of its investigation into PhilHealth's system to President Rodrigo Duterte, wherein it recommended either the firing or the filing of cases against 36 individuals over alleged irregularities within the agency. 

The implementation of the IRM has also been suspended by PhilHealth for further review.

As It Happens
LATEST UPDATE: September 14, 2020 - 11:10pm

The Philippine Health Insurance Corp. is facing scrutiny anew over more allegations of corruption.

It was in the headlines last year because of an alleged scam involving payments to WellMed Dialysis Center for treatments charged for a patient who had already died.

Follow this thread for updates.

September 14, 2020 - 11:10pm

Task Force PhilHealth has recommended complaints against former PhilHealth CEO Ricardo Morales, Senior Vice President Jovita Aragona, officer-in-charge Calixto Gabuya Jr. over alleged corruption at the state insurer related to overpriced ICT systems and other issues.

President Rodrigo Duterte announced the recommendations at a meeting of the IATF, part of which was televised.

September 1, 2020 - 4:01pm

Senate President Tito Sotto reports the findings of the Senate Committee of the Whole following its investigation into alleged anomalies at PhilHealth.

Sotto admits that he is taking the task of reporting the Senate panel's findings with some reluctance in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, noting that "we should not change horses mid-stream."

"It is suggested that we must let the pandemic first subside, before advocating for changes, in the areas of leadership, organization, systems and operations of PhilHealth," Sotto says.

September 1, 2020 - 9:19am

Newly appointed PhilHealth chief Dante Gierran admits he is "very scared" of taking over the state insurer.

"I'm scared because I don't know the operations of PhilHealth. Unlike NBI, I knew the operations of NBI but PhilHealth, wala. I do not know about public health," Gierran tells ANC's "Headstart" Tuesday morning.

The former NBI director adds he does not have experience about public health but he knows about financial management.

August 25, 2020 - 8:32pm

President Rodrigo Duterte has "stated that it would be best for [PhilHealth CEO Ricardo Morales] and for PhilHealth to give up his post during these critical times for the agency," Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra says.

Guevarra says the president had noted Morales' health.

The secretary adds that Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea has already talked to Morales "and that the latter said he would understand if he had to be replaced."

August 18, 2020 - 11:32am

Sen. Panfilo Lacson warns PhilHealth President and CEO Ricardo Morales and Senior Vice President Renato Limsiaco Jr. that they may face charges should the alleged irregularities in the state insurer be proven.

"Malamang, maliligo kayo sa kaso kapag ibinahagi na ni SP Tito Sotto kay DOJ Secretary Menardo Guevarra ang lahat na records ng proceedinhs ng pagdinig na sinasagawa namin ngayon," Lacson says.

Lacson recalled that in the previous Senate hearing, Limsiaco admitted that PhilHealth remitted P156 million to the Bureau of Internal Revenue last August 3, claiming that he charged the amount to the Corporate Operational Budget of the agency. 

"Then, he followed up with another lie - that he didn't know that it was an obligation under the law that he had to withhold taxes," the senator says. 

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