Enough is enough
So sordid have been the revelations tumbling out of the Senate hearing on the PhilHealth mess that the senators have had enough, or so they say, of the muck assaulting their senses, and have announced the termination of the hearings.
“Enough is enough… We are done with the carousel of denials and lies,’’ Senate President Vicente Sotto III said on Aug. 19, announcing that they would proceed to prepare their report and recommendations. The report, he added, would be forwarded to the Department of Justice (DOJ), and that PhilHealth president Ricardo Morales and other executives should just appear before the DOJ or the Ombudsman.
After PhilHealth anti-fraud legal officer Thorrsson Montes Keith resigned from the agency, citing “widespread corruption,’’ and testified that as much as P15 billion may have been stolen by a “mafia’’ consisting of members of the PhilHealth executive committee for 2019 alone, more appalling disclosures have come out in the Senate and in a parallel House investigation.
The hugely overpriced P2.1 billion information technology project, for example, turned out to have been small potatoes compared to a much more complex corruption scheme—the interim reimbursement mechanism (IRM), a P30-billion cash advance program to provide emergency funds to hospitals for calamities and natural disasters such as the pandemic that, per the testimonies, may have been turned into a milking cow by corrupt officials.
PhilHealth senior vice president for fund management sector Renato Limsiaco Jr. admitted that of the P15 billion released from the IRM since the lockdown in March, only P2.3 billion had been liquidated. Sen. Panfilo Lacson also questioned the release of P231 million from the IRM to 48 dialysis centers and four maternity clinics, when the IRM was supposed to be for fortuitous events such as the pandemic. Lacson highlighted the suspicious case of B Braun Avitum Philippines, which runs dialysis centers; it got P45 million though it did not have a single COVID-19 case, and some P9.7 million paid to it by the PhilHealth Cagayan office allegedly ended up in a rural bank in Balanga, Bataan.
Over at the House, Anakalusugan party-list Rep. Mike Defensor questioned why PhilHealth released P1.49 billion to 51 hospitals with fraud-related offenses, such as the padding of claims, claims for patients who were not admitted or treated, post-dating of claims, and many other cases of fraud. From 2013 to 2020, Defensor said, there were 4,664 such incidents reported involving these hospitals.
Still at the House, Limsiaco admitted that PhilHealth used its corporate funds to pay for P156 million in withholding taxes it had failed to deduct from payments released to private hospitals. “So this is another clear case of malversation’’ of funds, Surigao del Norte Rep. Robert Ace Barbers pointed out, adding that PhilHealth members were “being fried in their own fat.’’
Marikina Rep. Stella Quimbo said the IRM system was “so rotten’’ that as much as P2 billion could be lost to fraud, noting that PhilHealth bloated its allocation for COVID-19 cases. “It’s like a blank check and a free loan to hospitals,’’ Quimbo said of the IRM.
Whistleblowers have also provided the Senate information on the overpriced items for the P2.1 billion IT project, which ironically was intended to prevent more corruption and fraud in the agency. Lacson threatened to cite in contempt PhilHealth officials Jovita Aragona and Calixto Gabuya Jr. for repeatedly evading answering why PhilHealth was buying a certain model of computer network switches for P348,000 each, when it costs only P62,000 apiece.
If the Senate is intent on hearing no more of such shenanigans and moving swiftly to writing its report, then that report, to be useful, should 1) shine a thorough, unforgiving light on how every peso of taxpayer money is waylaid by corrupt PhilHealth officials and private health providers; 2) identify the members of the PhilHealth mafia, and; 3) leave no room for President Duterte to save favored underlings who have become two of the country’s biggest liabilities in this pandemic era—Health Secretary Francisco Duque III, whom Keith categorically identified as the “godfather’’ of the PhilHealth mafia, and Morales, who has emerged as a picture of stark incompetence and cluelessness.
The investigators should also move faster than the mafia. A recent roof leak at a PhilHealth regional office in Pangasinan aroused suspicion that it was intended to destroy documents proving fraud. Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra revealed that the National Bureau of Investigation found cloth stuck in the drainpipe of the office. Last year, the Inquirer uncovered ghost patients from PhilHealth in Pangasinan and reported that the PhilHealth office was in a building owned by the family of Duque.
Coincidence? Enough is truly enough.
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