Hopes high

Hopes high

We share the high hopes of many the Senate hearing earlier this month, prompted by allegedly misused billions of pesos in the state-run Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth), will come out with something positive for members and the public on tenterhooks.

Such high hopes are boosted by the anxious thought that President Rodrigo Duterte, the first chief of state from Mindanao, has stood strongly against all faces of corruption in whatever sector of the bureaucracy and public life.

We share the observation of some the President himself could not have failed to sense, given his prosecutor’s legal gut, the corruption in PhilHealth.

Reason many feels reassured the legislative inquiries would not just end up with ornate rhetoric and then nothing when the heat is off, and the spotlight is once more on supposedly other issues of national concern deserving screaming news headlines.

The Senate Blue Ribbon Committee hearing, at the instance of a resolution co-sponsored by Senate President Vicente Sotto III and Senator Panfilo Lacson, has brought to light the elephantine corruption which linked officials who had allegedly fleeced PhilHealth of billions of pesos.

We note what PhilHealth President and CEO Ricardo Morales, a retired military official tasked by Duterte to the post in June 2019, admitted during the Senate hearing that he had not done plenteous to rid the agency of corruption, and that “some irregularities” were still in the agency.

The Commission on Audit has unearthed alleged multibillion-peso distortions during his tenure.

We also note that when the senators questioned Morales for promoting, instead of sacking, four agency officials linked to the WellMed “ghost” dialysis scam, the PhilHealth chief flatly denied even knowing such cases.

Read him: “I’m not aware that they were facing cases. It’s the first we ever heard of that.”

What makes the scenario very alarming is that this is happening while the claws of the coronavirus pandemic, which has infected and killed thousands, the recoveries notwithstanding, are porking out on the  population, thousands of whom – and may we add posthaste have been diligent in paying or have paid their PhilHealth fees – while these alleged anomalies were being committed.

It is good that both incumbent and resigned officials of PhilHealth have sought the Senate intervention to help them “drain the swamp,” as it were, and rub off the corruption in the agency.

Lacson was on track when he declared the probe must be done now: “And for good reason. PhilHealth is a murky, stinking swamp that many of its good and well-meaning people from the officials to their rank-and-file employees (are) drained, not just of some corrupt but well-entrenched officials who do not seem to run out of malevolent schemes to enrich themselves.”

Lacson, at the start of the Senate Committee of the Whole hearing, referred to “a deeply rooted, mafia-like syndicate that controls the resources of the corporation, and habitually manipulate its financial balance sheet.

The issues tackled in the hearing included PhilHealth’s alleged overpriced ICT equipment; the manipulation of PhilHealth’s financial statements; and the highly irregular implementation of advanced payments to health care institutions through the Interim Reimbursement Mechanism policy.

Sotto had said Morales should have exercised due diligence in promoting his people. It was all over the news when graft cases were filed against officials, namely: Cheryl Peña, Dr. Rizza Majella Herrera, Dr. Bernadette Lico, and lawyer Recto Panti.

Instead of being fired, the four were rewarded by Morales with promotion to Department Manager III.

Lawyer Thorrsson Montes Keith has had enough of Morales’ lies and dropped the bomb on the PhilHealth big boss, painting him as a “coddler” or “new leader” of a mafia in PhilHealth.

Keith, PhilHealth’s former anti-fraud officer, accused Morales of allowing the irregular disbursement of P30 billion as part of the Interim Reimbursement Mechanism funds, a cash aid program, to healthcare institutions reeling from the COVID-19 crisis.

But Morales has said: “I have maintained from day one of my tenure that the main solution to this systematic fraud problem lies in our robust, integrated, and harmonized information management system running a clean, complete, and updated membership database,” adding, PhilHealth should be helped instead of mocked.

Then they talk of a Mafia in PhilHealth. Listen to Dr. Roy Ferrer, former PhilHealth president and CEO, who said the mafia had orchestrated the ouster of his predecessors and even former Health Secretary Paulyn Ubial, who was forced to vacate her post after the Commission on Appointments rejected her appointment in October 2017.

Two former PhilHealth executives told the Senate this month the “mafia” led by the “Mindanao group” of eight senior officials of PhilHealth had aided hospitals in defrauding the state insurance firm of billions of pesos.

The alleged members of the group did not hide their identities as they faced their accusers at the public hearing jointly presided over by Senators Richard Gordon and Christopher Go.

We join the public in watching with bated breath what would happen after the Senate hearing. And how President Duterte would make his next moves.

We have high hopes.

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