‘The best choice’?
Early this week, President Duterte appointed another former law enforcement officer to replace retired Brig. Gen. Ricardo Morales, the beleaguered president/CEO of the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth) where, according to a recent Senate hearing, rampant corruption has led to the loss of some P15 billion in public funds.
The Senate on Tuesday recommended filing administrative and criminal charges against several top executives of the state insurer, including Morales, for violation of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act and malversation of public funds or public property, among other charges.
The President named as Morales’ successor Dante Gierran, a lawyer and accountant who retired as chief of the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) in February. The Davao native himself expressed reservations about his new post, saying he was “scared” about the “gargantuan job” to clean up PhilHealth. “I don’t know about public health. I don’t know about that,” Gierran admitted in a TV interview.
Howls of protest greeted Mr. Duterte’s latest appointment, with critics citing the minimum qualifications required for the job. Under Section 14 of the Universal Healthcare Law, the president/CEO of PhilHealth must have “at least 7 years of experience in the field of public health, management, finance, and health economics, or a combination of any of these expertise.”
“Putting ex-generals, ex-cops and ex-NBI agents with little or no experience in positions where crucial decisions on medical matters and public health are made puts our people’s lives in peril,” one doctor said, voicing out a collective concern amid the raging COVID-19 pandemic. With yet another missed opportunity to appoint the right person for the job, lamented other observers, Mr. Duterte has put into serious doubt his promise to reform PhilHealth and provide more transparency in the process.
Indeed, the President was not to be dislodged from his habits, not even by the worst health emergency in the country’s history. For the umpteenth time, he turned to another former law enforcement official to take on a job that would certainly benefit more from the experience and expertise of a career officer, in this case a bona fide health professional who can hit the ground running and rebuild PhilHealth posthaste given the urgency and severity of the COVID-19 crisis.
Halfway into his six-year term, Mr. Duterte has appointed 46 former military and police officers to key government posts, including Cabinet-level positions, among them Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu, Social Welfare Secretary Rolando Bautista, Local Government Secretary Eduardo Año, COVID-19 task force chief implementer Carlito Galvez Jr., and disgraced Customs chiefs former Marine Nicanor Faeldon and former Philippine Military Academy graduate and Davao City police chief Isidro Lapeña.
Mr. Duterte has defended his preference, saying that military men “get the job done”—that is, they obey orders without question. Justifying Gierran’s appointment, presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said the man was “the best choice” to manage the financial woes of PhilHealth “because he is a CPA and a lawyer who (also) has experience in criminal investigations.”
Gierran has asked to be given a chance, saying he was bringing to PhilHealth his knowledge on financial management, law, insurance and investigation. “I am new. Give me a chance to lead,” he said, adding that he would create his own management committee, reorganize the state health insurer, and consult privately with experts on technical matters.
Fair enough. With a public exasperated at the PhilHealth shambles closely monitoring his moves, Gierran would do well to consider some of the Senate’s recommendations, among them immediately requiring all medical centers that received the COVID-19-intended IRM funds to liquidate such disbursements and return any leftover amounts. The state insurer should also pay promptly the health insurance claims of private hospitals, particularly COVID-19 referral centers.
As well, PhilHealth should contract reputable outside companies for its IT services and for the processing of benefit claims to speed up reimbursements, the Senate report said. And to prevent collusion with hospitals and clinics, the agency’s regional vice presidents should be reassigned every three years, with none of them posted in the same region more than twice.
Aside from the Commission on Audit, the Insurance Commission, and the Governance Commission for GOCCs conducting more frequent audits and monitoring PhilHealth’s condition more closely, the Anti-Money Laundering Council also needs to get into the act by scrutinizing the bank accounts of PhilHealth officials tagged in the anomalies, the Senate added.
There, those recommendations should give Gierran a running start to prove himself.
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