Magellan
FIRST PERSON - Alex Magno (The Philippine Star) - July 2, 2019 - 12:00am

After saying he will not interfere in the fight for Speaker of the House, President Rodrigo Duterte relented and said he would announce his endorsement on June 28.

That day came and went. An obviously tortured Duterte made no endorsement. He had said it was too painful to choose among friends.

Over the weekend, the President admitted he proposed a term-sharing formula last week. In that formula, Rep. Alan Peter Cayetano would serve as Speaker for the first 15 months and Lord Allan Velasco would serve the remaining 21 months of the incoming Congress.

That 15-21 formula has been nicknamed the “Magellan” scheme. The explorer landed in what is now the Philippine Islands in the year 1521.

The formula, discussed last week during the victory celebration of the Hugpong ng Pagbabago alliance, was agreed upon in a face-to-face meeting between the President, Cayetano and Velasco. The two rivals agreed to the formula.

The very next day, however, Velasco’s camp announced a manifesto of support for his bid signed by the leaders of two political parties and two coalitions. Individual members of the supposed signatory factions quickly questioned the manifesto, saying they were not fully consulted. Among these are members of the party-list bloc and even members of the PDP-Laban.

Cayateno accuses Velasco of bad faith in issuing the manifesto the day after their meeting with the President. He accuses Velasco of lying about the verbal agreement now confirmed by the President no less.

Senator Bong Go adds credence to Cayetano’s claim. He quotes the President as having told the two contenders: “Just to break the impasse, let us have this formula (the “Magellan” scheme).”

President Duterte was set to announce the term-sharing deal. He was, however, preempted by the release last Wednesday of the supposed multi-party manifesto of support.

The PDP-Laban, with Manny Pacquiao as chief broker, has been pressuring the President to endorse someone from his home party. This is not the first time this particular party insisted on promoting its own members to key positions. In 2016, the party insisted its sole senator, Koko Pimentel, become Senate President. We know what happened with that.

Now that same party is insisting one of their own, no matter how junior, be elevated to the top position in the House of Representatives. For this, the party is willing to defy the wishes of its own nominal leader. Which brings us to this rather unseemly situation where the “ruling party” is also the renegade faction in a famously ungovernable chamber.

The PDP-Laban endorsement of Velasco de facto eliminates the two other aspirants from the same party. One of those aspirants, former speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, has been increasingly vocal about the role of money is settling the House leadership question.

For Cayetano, the scuttling of the “Magellan” formula and the lying that followed it brings front and center the matter of character.

Whistleblowers

There are whistleblowers and there are whistleblowers. Not all of them speak an untarnished truth.

But media is always too keen to celebrate whistleblowers and overlook quirks in motives. That could be a dangerous disposition.

Two former employees of WellMed Dialysis and Laboratory Center Corp. came out a few weeks ago with claims the company committed fraud when it charged to the accounts of dead beneficiaries the treatment of other patients. Those claims fit nicely into prejudices we already hold: the PhilHealth system is badly run and clinics that pass the costs of treating beneficiaries to this system regularly get away with scams.

Not too long ago, various scams involving treatments charged to PhilHealth were exposed. These include unnecessary operations for cataract problems and questionable diagnoses of supposed pneumonia cases. If all the pneumonia claims were true, we should have declared an epidemic outbreak years ago.While the institutional weaknesses of the PhilHealth are well known, there are elements in the version we are being told by former WellMed employees Edwin Roberto and Liezel Aileen de Leon that do not snugly fit. A more thorough investigation should establish if it was the company or only the two former employees that benefited from the fraud that was supposed to be committed.

Meanwhile, PhilHealth summarily suspended the accreditation of WellMed. This cuts the company’s revenue flow, dislocates their employees and leaves many dialysis patients without services they need in short intervals.  It is to the interest of PhilHealth officials to immediately distance themselves from the alleged fraud and pin all wrongdoing to the private company.

In the media coverage of yet another expose, little is said about the backgrounds of the two “whistleblowers.” The backgrounds could raise serious questions about motive.

Both Roberto and de Leon were hired as assistant branch manager and billing officer/ cashier respectively in 2015. They were the ones who took cash payments from patients who have used up their free 90 dialysis sessions and documented those sessions for PhilHealth reimbursements.

The two are real-life partners with a child between them, a detail they did not immediately disclose. They were the ones who forged the signatures of dead beneficiaries and received cash payments not reflected in company records.

Lawyers for WellMed claim the irregularities began only in 2017. This was after the two asked for pay increases that the company denied because of their poor performance. WellMed eventually dismissed the two for poor performance of their duties. They could have a reason for taking down their former employer.

WellMed will have its day in court to face the charges leveled by the couple. The company looks forward to that.

HOUSE SPEAKERSHIP RACE “MAGELLAN” SCHEME
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