New PhilHealth chief scared, but not cowed
File photo shows then NBI chief Dante Gierran with President Duterte. Malacañang said Gierran was the ‘best choice’ for the job of PhilHealth president.
STAR/File
New PhilHealth chief scared, but not cowed
Rey Galupo (The Philippine Star) - September 2, 2020 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — Dante Gierran, the man tasked to lead the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth) and cleanse it of misfits, had tried to earn a living as a security guard, bill collector and telephone operator before rising from the ranks to earn a reputation as an incorruptible public servant.

In August last year, Gierran ordered an investigation of hospitals and clinics involved in bogus claims for dialysis treatment paid by the PhilHealth.

The case stemmed from a confession of two former Wellmed employees turned whistle-blowers that their company, owned by Dr. Brian Sy, was involved in doctored claims for dialysis treatment.

“He is assuming that post coming in full circle. He knew then and he will know now the extent of corruption and what is really happening inside PhilHealth. He may not be a medical practitioner but his background will serve him well,” NBI deputy director Vicente De Guzman III told The STAR.

De Guzman, Gierran’s former boss, said the former NBI director was a good choice for President Duterte because “of his no-nonsense approach and his unsullied reputation.”

He said Gierran would “explode every time there were hints of gifts or favor and would not hesitate to order the arrest even of his friends who were in conflict with the law.”

“I still remember President Duterte citing Gierran during his SONA because of his accomplishments at the bureau. Who would have known that a year later he will lead the same agency he had thoroughly scrutinized?” he said.

Nick Suarez, NBI public information chief, said his former boss was a tough man with a soft heart.

“He has changed the image of the NBI since he assumed office and the bureau has solved a lot of controversial cases,” Suarez said.

De Guzman said Gierran’s most valuable asset would be “his connection with the NBI because we will always have his back.”

“That is the big difference. The former heads of PhilHealth … either they did not want a full-blown investigation or they just don’t know where to begin. With him it will be another story altogether because the NBI will be ready to help him uncover everything,” he said.

Gierran’s rise to the top was no easy feat.

He worked as radio telephone operator, security guard, bill collector and administrative officer from 1972 to 1979, while trying to earn a degree in accountancy at the Rizal Memorial Colleges in Davao City.

He earned a few units in MBA in 1987 then proceeded to finish Law at the University of Mindanao and International Harvardian University, both in Davao City.

After becoming a Certified Public Accountant, Gierran worked for a bank as credit investigator and as part-time professor at the Agro-Industrial Foundation of the Philippines College and International Harvadian University.

Stint at NBI

In 1990, he joined the NBI and rose from the ranks, becoming chief of staff of then NBI director Nonatus Rojas in 2012 and later as NBI acting regional director in 2013 until 2016 when he was handpicked by Duterte to lead the bureau.

In a television interview, Gierran admitted he is scared of his new job but assured the public that he would not be “cowed” in fulfilling his mission to cleanse the graft-ridden PhilHealth.

“My job is to restore the confidence, the trust of the people in the government. Give me the chance to lead. Don’t judge me,” he said.

“I’m scared because number one , I do not know the operation of PhilHealth. Unlike in the NBI, I have been in NBI for 27 years. There, I know the operations, but in PhilHealth none. I do not know what is public health,” he explained.

But he said his being a CPA would greatly help, as restoring order at PhilHealth would require skills in financial management, insurance and investigation.

The first thing Gierran promised to do upon getting his official appointment paper is to examine PhilHealth’s financial records.

“So I have to know how much money PhilHealth has at the moment, I have to see what they call as special savings,” he said.

He revealed it was Sen. Bong Go who offered him the position. “I never thought I would be appointed,” said the former NBI chief. He retired as NBI director several months back.

Gierran said he intends to consult and seek guidance from predecessor president Ricardo Morales. He said it was Morales’ mistake that “he did not meet the expectation of the President.”

Malacañang said Gierran was the “best choice” for the job, rejecting criticism raised by PhilHealth workers’ group that President Duterte should have tapped a finance expert instead to lead the embattled agency.

“Since the crimes being committed in PhilHealth are white collar crimes, we need someone who can understand financial reports, financial records and balance statements I think Director Gierran is the best choice because he is a CPA and has experience in criminal investigation,” presidential spokesman Harry Roque said at a press briefing.

“We expect PhilHealth to be cleansed within the President’s remaining two years in office,” he added.

Section 14 of the Universal Healthcare Law states that the President, upon the recommendation of the PhilHealth board, shall appoint the PhilHealth president and chief executive officer from the board’s non-ex officio members.

“Director Gierran already has seven years management experience. It does not need to be health economics experience,” Roque said.

“The problem with PhilHealth is corruption so the President thought the best person to appoint is one who is capable of conducting investigations,” he added.

Unblemished

Roque also claimed that Gierran has not been tainted with corruption, making him qualified to implement a cleansing of the ranks in the state-run health insurer.

Pressed why Duterte did not follow the Universal Healthcare Law in appointing the next PhilHealth chief, Roque replied: “Well, we don’t know if there is such a recommendation. Majority of the board members anyway are ex-officio members of the Cabinet. There are only four individuals who are not members of the Cabinet as far as I know.”

At a meeting of the government’s pandemic task force, Duterte ordered Gierran to implement a reshuffle in PhilHealth in two to three days and to relieve all regional vice presidents from their posts.

“I told him the next two years will be devoted to (fighting) against corruption. Find people we can send to jail,” he said.

Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra also lauded Gierran’s appointment. “Former NBI Director Gierran’s legal and accounting background, his well-known investigative skills, administrative abilities and fiscal prudence make him fit for the PhilHealth top position,” said Guevarra.

Senate President Vicente Sotto III described Gierran as “a very good choice.”

“Aside from a clean record, he has investigative skills that can crack the whip, ferreting out anomalies in the agency where others have failed,” Sotto said.

“The work ahead is too tough and too big for a lone ranger. He needs to have strong backup, but they should not be the boys from Taft alone. Better to recruit alumni of NBI’s neighbor, the Philippine General Hospital,” Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto said in a statement.

“I believe Gierran will be able to untangle the mafia web inside PhilHealth and stop the nefarious shenanigans happening within. He must move swiftly to stop all the leakages and unnecessary loss of the people’s money in the state insurance agency,” Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri said.

“The job at hand is tough. However, it is critical in safeguarding not just the health but the wealth of the Filipino people,” Sen. Grace Poe said.

Sen. Panfilo Lacson said he knows Gierran “enough to say that he is a good man. I hope and I mean it—that PhilHealth will not be Dante’s Inferno as he faces the challenges of his new mission.”

“He should keep his eyes open—never blink—to corruption. A piece of advice: transparency is an effective tool to prevent corruption. I hope his leadership will finally shine a light on PhilHealth which operates in the dark. He can enhance transparency by employing technology. He must oversee the upgrading of the system of PhilHealth to minimize, if not stop, corruption,” Minority Leader Franklin Drilon said.

“If we don’t fix the system, even if we weed out the syndicates now, a new mafia will just emerge in the future. We need system change and change in people,” Sen. Joel Villanueva said, as he urged Gierran to act swiftly on reports of corruption.

Sen. Sonny Angara said Gierran must shepherd PhilHealth into the 21st century using tools like information technology, blockchain, and the like.

“He must also update the system of case rates which has given rise to systemic corruption, at the expense, tragically, of the people who need it the most,” Angara said. — Alexis Romero, Mayen Jaymalin, Evelyn Macairan, Edu Punay, Edith Regalado, Paolo Romero

DANTE GIERRAN PHILHEALTH
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