Health Secretary and PhilHealth Chair Duque claims he has ‘zero tolerance for corruption’

<i>Photo: Screengrab from Senate of the Philippines Video / FB</i>
Photo: Screengrab from Senate of the Philippines Video / FB

Health Secretary Francisco Duque, who is also the chairperson of state insurer Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth), today denied condoning allegations of widespread fraud and corruption, claiming that he simply doesn’t have the tolerance for it.

PhilHealth is being investigated for various alleged anomalous dealings such as the payment of fake premiums and the purchase of overpriced medical equipment, which could be traced back to 2013, leading to the alleged loss of a whopping PHP154 billion (US$3 billion). These transactions were allegedly approved by President Ricardo Morales, who, along with other officials, have allegedly stolen as much as PHP15 billion (US$305 million), an allegation that Morales has denied.

Read: 6 PhilHealth vice presidents go on leave as corruption probe continues

As a consequence, both houses of Congress and the Presidential Anti-Corruption Commission launched separate investigations, which led them to summon Duque for questioning.

“I would like to state for the record that I am for zero tolerance for fraud and corruption…I have clarified this before the Blue Ribbon Committee last year, but I will repeat it to set the record straight: There is no such thing as a PHP154-billion loss,” Duque stressed in today’s Senate inquiry.

He added that no funds have been released for PhilHealth’s proposed PHP2.1 billion (US$43 million) information technology project that’s supposedly designed to stop fraud because it is still in the proposal stage. The overpriced project was flagged by the Commission on Audit last month.

Duque also dispelled accusations of favoritism (“palakasan system”) in the release of emergency COVID-19 funds under the agency’s Internal Reimbursement Mechanism (IRM).

“On the allegations of the favoritism on the release of funds under IRM, we assure you that there is none,” the health chief said.

Read: Nancy Binay urges Health Secretary Duque to do some ‘soul-searching’ during MECQ

This is the first time that Duque has appeared before lawmakers to address the scandal hounding the agency after recent accusations prompted lawmakers to restart the hearings early this month. It was only after several senators last week called on Duque to break his silence on the issue that the health chief appeared in the hearings.

Meanwhile, amid the corruption probes, PhilHealth President Morales had taken a leave of absence last week due to lymphoma, while six of the agency’s regional vice presidents have likewise taken their temporary departure after being named in the corruption scheme. Earlier this month, PhilHealth former Vice President for Operations Augustus de Villa tendered his “irrevocable resignation.”

While Malacañang is conducting its own investigations into the PhilHealth mess, President Rodrigo Duterte has stood by Morales, saying that he will not fire the retired army general unless there’s clear evidence linking him to the alleged corruption scheme. Similarly, Duterte had stood by Duque, despite various calls for the health chief’s resignation for his perceived poor handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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