Duterte: Clean up PhilHealth by December, or elseâ¦
“It is an ultimatum. You need to clean up PhilHealth by the end of the year,” Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said.

Duterte: Clean up PhilHealth by December, or else…

Alexis Romero (The Philippine Star) - September 18, 2020 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — President Duterte has given Philippine Health Insurance Corp. officer-in-charge Dante Gierran until the end of the year to clean up the state-run health insurer, before deciding whether to abolish or privatize PhilHealth, presidential spokesman Harry Roque Jr. said yesterday.

“It is an ultimatum. You need to clean up PhilHealth by the end of the year,” Roque said.

He also voiced support for calls by lawmakers to abolish or privatize the agency – a position opposed by Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra, who pointed out that the President has the power to call for a top-to-bottom reorganization of PhilHealth.

Roque said the President was firm on his stand on privatizing or abolishing PhilHealth and had discussed the matter with some members of the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF).

There are also recommendations to place the Department of Finance (DOF) chief as PhilHealth board chairman, a position currently held by Health Secretary Francisco Duque III.

Roque discussed a pending measure proposed by Senate President Vicente Sotto III giving the DOF chief the power to act as board chairman since the primary function of PhilHealth is that of an insurance business “and therefore it should be the Secretary of Finance and not the Secretary of Health chairing the Board.”

Sotto said the President agreed with him when he explained that PhilHealth is an insurance firm and not a health entity.

“He (the President) said he wanted PhilHealth abolished or privatized but I said it might be better to wait a few months and see how the new admin performs and that I have a bill making the Secretary of Finance as chair of the Board instead of the DOH secretary. He agreed with my proposal,” Sotto told reporters.

At the Palace briefing, Secretary Guevarra said the President can direct the Governance Commission for Government-Owned and Controlled Corporations (GCG) to check on the feasibility of reorganizing the agency.

Guevarra pointed out that crafting a new law for abolition or privatization would take a while, and a total reorganization could be the best option at the moment.

“Now, as to the matter of what to do with PhilHealth, well, of course there are proposals to abolish or create some new institution or what… I think we can still have a remedy – that’s why we recommended to the President to direct the GCG to conduct their own evaluation for a possible re-organization of PhilHealth,” Guevarra said.

He said the President can provide guidelines for rehabilitating the agency.

“And within the interim, the creation of an interim management committee. Because when we go to Congress, Congress can very easily do that but it will take some time also because of the congressional legislative process,” he said.

“So, in the meantime within the executive department that is what I can see. The GCG has the power to introduce or to recommend reorganization, partial or a total reorganization without really abolishing the entity. So, I guess we could explore that option for now since that is less drastic than abolishing or privatizing the corporation,” Guevarra said.

Pressed further why Duque was seemingly spared from the filing of charges based on the task force’s findings, Guevarra said the DOJ panel has not finalized all aspects of their investigation. He added it is too early to clear anybody of accountability.

“We will only go by the evidence presented before us,” he said.

‘Spread too thinly’

He also said that Duque may be too busy attending to the current health crisis to be an effective board chairman of PhilHealth. “My opinion about him is he might have spread himself too thinly,” Guevarra said.

“He is just spreading himself too thinly because of the many responsibilities he is attending to. But that is not really an excuse. PhilHealth is an important agency, there should be more vigilance on their part,” he said.

He stressed that PhilHealth should be led by someone who is an expert in business or in finance.

But then, changes in the organizational structure of PhilHealth are matters for Congress to decide.

“That’s actually a legislative matter. I really leave it to Congress to determine what needs to be done in terms of reorganization. But my view about this is it (PhilHealth) is not really a health institution. It’s a health insurance institution,” he maintained.

“That is why I would agree that it is not necessary that the Secretary of Health chairs PhilHealth because first and foremost, it is a health state insurer,” the DOJ chief said.

“They are not really discussing health here. I can agree with the proposal to replace, but not because it is Secretary Duque but because of the nature of the functions,” he added.

During the 30-day investigation of alleged PhilHealth anomalies by the DOJ-led task force, it was established that unchecked cases of corruption had spawned mafia-like syndicates in the state run firm.

“This irregularity that is happening could not have been perpetrated by one or two persons alone. What I saw was that there is a culture of tolerance, cooperation and that is why it would appear that the irregularities are synchronized. To that extent, it would seem that the efforts are syndicated,” he added.

The probe focused on irregularities in the Interim Reimbursement Mechanism (IRM), information and communication technology (ICT) and the legal sector.

“If all of these irregularities were checked much sooner, probably it would not have worsened. The problem was that there was not much disciplinary action. It was as if there was a culture of tolerance… and that is why the situation worsened at PhilHealth,” he said.

“That is why I would say there is a festering culture of irregularity, fraud and corruption in PhilHealth and that is what we need to address,” he added.

He said he is pleased that the President has appointed a former National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) director to lead PhilHealth, as his expertise as an investigator would be useful in uncovering anomalies.

“At DOJ, when we filed complaints before the Office of the Ombudsman, we want to make sure we have the necessary testimonials, documentary… we have to make sure it is backed up by evidence. The DOJ and other investigating agencies are representing the people of the Philippines so whatever the DOJ will file, it should not be garbage,” Guevarra said, explaining why the task force’s findings differed from those released by the Senate committee of the whole. – Evelyn Macairan, Cecille Suerte Felipe

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