A dirty little secret

CTALK - Cito Beltran (The Philippine Star) - November 2, 2020 - 12:00am

News out of Cebu reports that the National Bureau of Investigation office in Region 7 recently found proof of a “Dirty Little Secret” related to COVID-19 hospital claims and the PhilHealth. As reported, the NBI has filed criminal charges against officials of a private hospital in Cebu that had filed a claim for reimbursement from PhilHealth in the P300,000 range for expenses incurred treating a COVID-19 patient who subsequently died. But according to NBI investigators, the patient had pre-existing co-morbidities such as cancer and pneumonia and tested negative for COVID-19.

This is the first official report about false hospital claims for COVID-19 but I have also heard about an incident where the relatives of a deceased patient was approached by a staff of a private hospital and was asked if they wanted to declare the death as a COVID-19 case so they would not have to pay anything anymore. As tempting as the offer was at such a tragic moment, the relative declined the offer, saying it was both illegal and immoral. Unfortunately, the death of a loved one took precedent so very little could be done about the indecent proposal.

Nonetheless, these two incidents are clear indicators that the COVID-19 scam that was earlier reported abroad has now made its way to the Philippines and is victimizing PhilHealth and its members. The question is just how many of the reported 7,000-plus COVID deaths were actual COVID-cases and how many might have been false claims? Given that the dead patients were immediately cremated, that relatives were possibly offered a way out of having to settle enormous bills, how can we now determine that all cases were COVID-19 positive cases? Does the government, the NBI or DOJ have the expertise and resources to cross check all tests versus DNA samples, etc.? This “Catch-22” damned-if-you-do/damned-if-you-don’t situation forces government to look deeper into the realm of possibilities because what is at stake is not just millions of false claims but the vulnerability of PhilHealth to fraud under the COVID pandemic.

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Last Friday, I once again had the pleasure of interviewing the hardworking Congressman Rufus Rodriguez and this time he was presenting his proposed bill that would require local and national government officials to relocate informal settlers “In City” or within the territory of the LGU they are currently squatting or residing at. This formally recognizes the fact that many informal settlers choose to live in squalor only because it is often near to where the jobs are. Time and again relocation programs have failed because they are too far from the jobs and have no established support system or facilities such as markets, hospitals, schools, etc. The bill clearly addresses the defect of past programs but as we conversed, I innocently asked if daily wage earners, transient or informal workers such as construction workers and “cargadors” are covered by or members of PagIbig? This is probably the biggest population as far as workers go but they are not covered or provided for by PagIbig. Ironically, they are a crucial requirement of many companies and developers but no company provides basic services for them because they are not part of the regular office work force. So even if companies were forced or volunteered to provide housing for employees, only the white collars get blessed while the no collars remain unseen, unknown and un-served. But without them, who would build the buildings, run piers, etc.?

In the end, Congressman Rodriguez made a commitment to draft bills that would extend PagIbig membership to the informal sector, require all LGUs to set aside a certain percentage of their funds for public housing and, of course, his original “In City” relocation. Just so our readers know, we have made public housing for the informal sector our “AGENDA” on AGENDA because these workers or laborers have been exploited by one company after another, one businessman after another but after building the palaces and edifices, they go home to their illegal shanties and are treated like a necessary evil! But life or GOD has a way to even up the score. We have all come to learn that unless we rebuild those informal settlements into proper housing, the congestion and squalid conditions will be a perpetual manufacturing site for COVID-19. Rather than promote the bias and disrespect for “squatters,” let us come to terms with the truth: society and politicians brought in those squatters and they have remained where we left them. We must now be our brothers’ keepers.

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After being cooped up for seven months under quarantine, many of us have been daydreaming of road trips and bucket list destinations. As travel and tourism slowly open up, some of you might want to hook up with the organizers of the “Belenismo” of the province of Tarlac and spearheaded by my dear friend Dr. Lisa Suntay. I’ve lost track of how many years this annual Nativity scene competition has been going on, but I can tell you all from personal experience that every year more and more LGUs and companies join and the entries or displays just get bigger, grander and more fantastic every year. The centerpiece is all about the “Belen” or nativity scene but given local flair or high fashion artistry. To enjoy this unique cultural and tourism experience, the best time to drive through and see the entries would be late afternoon to evening since most “Belens” are designed as evening displays. Check it out online and go on a bucket list drive where you go past the Belens of every town or city in Tarlac province!

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E-mail: utalk2ctalk@gmail.com

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