Health Secretary Duque decries Senate proposal to charge him over PhilHealth mess

Health Secretary Francisco Duque <i>Photo screengrab via House hearing / Twitter</i>
Health Secretary Francisco Duque Photo screengrab via House hearing / Twitter

Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth) Board Chair and Health Secretary Francisco Duque III today decried a Senate finding which recommended his inclusion in the filing of criminal and administrative charges for allowing fraud to continue in the state insurer.

The Senate Committee of the Whole yesterday recommended charging Duque, resigned PhilHealth President Ricardo Morales, and several of the agency’s high-ranking officials. Lawmakers said that they should be held accountable for the alleged anomalous disbursal of cash advances through the agency’s Interim Reimbursement Mechanism (IRM) or COVID-19 emergency fund.

“The Senate Committee made baseless findings on mere allegations alone. I was impleaded (sic) in the IRM when I was not even part of the deliberation and did not sign the said resolution. You wouldn’t even be able to find a shadow of my signature,” a miffed Duque claimed in English and Filipino, in today’s House hearing.

“I am for zero tolerance on fraud and corruption,” Duque reiterated, repeating a statement he made last month.

He went on to list a string of revamps and investigations that he spearheaded as PhilHealth chair such as the creation of Task Force Kisap Mata which investigated cataract-related cases, and the implementation of a “rotation policy” or department shuffling among employees, which was supposedly adopted as an anti-corruption measure.

“I remain unflinching in my battles, not only in the fight to protect my character as a public servant but also in the fight to implement President [Rodrigo] Duterte’s noble vision for genuine universal access to healthcare for all Filipinos and ensure we come out of this pandemic healthy as a people and as a nation. Rest assured that I am one with you to ensure accountability of public officers and uphold public office as a public trust,” Duque added.

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

Yesterday, lawmakers questioned the IRM disbursals, which was meant to help struggling hospitals during the pandemic. Senate President Tito Sotto said that according to the committee’s findings, over PHP14 billion (US$288 million) was distributed to at least 279 facilities on March 25, before the requirements were completed on June 11.

“PhilHealth estimated PHP3.3 billion (US$67 million) for the cost of COVID for the entire 2020, but [the agency] placed a budget of PHP26.8 billion (US$551 million),” said Sotto.

Resigned PhilHealth anti-fraud officer Thorsson Montes Keith earlier alleged that a “mafia” composed of the agency’s high-ranking officials including former president Morales, stole some PHP15 billion (US$305 million) of taxpayers’ money through fraudulent schemes, which included the IRM. PhilHealth has denied the allegations.

Meanwhile, Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque told news talk show The Source today that while Duterte “respects” the Senate’s recommendations, he is deferring to the findings of the presidential task force, which was formed to independently investigate the PhilHealth mess. Duterte had last month, expressed renewed trust to Duque amid corruption allegations hounding the agency, which he has expressed publicly many times before.

“I think the task force itself will evaluate the findings of the Senate. I am almost sure that the Senate has transmitted all the evidence it has gathered in the course of its investigation,” said Roque.

The presidential task force is expected to submit its findings to Duterte on Sept. 14.

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