Moratorium on Corruption: A Challenge to PhilHealth

Recent developments have given us a sneak peek into the extent of corruption at the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth), even in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

I thus pose this challenge to the corrupt elements in PhilHealth: Declare a moratorium on corruption, at least during the pandemic. Who knows, they might actually learn that it feels good not to be corrupt, and thus develop an aversion to corruption.

Having said that, I also encourage those in PhilHealth who fight corruption in their own little way – the officials and rank-and-file who continue to provide information and documents – not to tire of blowing the whistle on corruption, even if we may not immediately see the results of their acts.

A corruption-free – and more importantly, corruption-averse – PhilHealth will not only ensure much-needed health benefits for all Filipinos in the long run. In the immediate term, it will ease the concerns of lawmakers, myself included, that the budget we pass for PhilHealth to do its job will not be lost to greed.


QUOTES from INTERVIEWS on ANC and CNN Philippines


Moratorium vs Corruption:

Ako simple lang, may panawagan lang ako sa PhilHealth. Sa mga corrupt, baka pwedeng moratorium muna tayo sa corruption. Baka sakaling moratorium na ito during the pandemic, maging dress rehearsal na it feels good not to be corrupt. Doon naman sa PhilHealth na tumutulong sa amin, there are a lot of PhilHealth officials and rank and file that continue to give us information and documents. Ang panawagan ko rin, sana huwag magsawa because di lang ititigil maski nakita nila walang nangyayari kasi taon-taon, parang anniversary ngayon. Last year August nag-hearing, ngayon August na naman, sabi ni Pres Morales parang si Einstein, doing the same thing all over again, expecting different results. E hindi naman kami, mapagod pa kami? We’ll not get tired.

We’re facing a pandemic. This is a serious health crisis. Mataas ang ating COVID cases. Baka pwede tayo magkaroon ng moratorium sa corruption. And hopefully ang moratorium mag-serve as a dress rehearsal para maging permanent ang aversion sa corruption.”

“I remember during budget deliberation for the 2020 budget last year, naghanap ako kung saang item sa budget, I was able to realign P7B sa UHC because it is a law, UHC Act. Kulang na kulang ang pondo for 2020… tapos makakarinig ka ganito (corruption). How would they expect me now or the other senators to support additional budget or even a big appropriations for PhilHealth and DOH?

It’s amusing to hear all of them (PhilHealth officials) during the hearing. Lahat sila nagsabi we’re fighting corruption, against corruption, di kami member ng syndicate, e bakit may corruption, ang tagal nila roon sa PhilHealth? They’ve been there for quite a while. At ang iba facing charges they got promoted under president Morales. What can you make of these issues?”

“Would you expect me, again personally I am addressing this to myself, to support their additional budget for PhilHealth? I don’t think so. We’ll have to see first some serious reforms in PhilHealth before we do that. And in the long run ang mag-suffer dito is the client which is the Filipino people.”

Systemic Corruption:

I’d say it’s systemic. As per the testimonies of at least 2 of the witnesses, there seems to be a mafia-like syndicate operating in PhilHealth. And this syndicate is composed of members of the execom. That we intend to dig deeper into. Because if corruption has become systemic in an organization, there must be a deeply rooted group or clique responsible for the corruption.”

“I had a conversation with Eastern Samar Gov Evardone. He was asking me how come, because there are 4-5 public hospitals in Eastern Samar. Sabi niya maski isang hospital, mahirap ang kanyang probinsya at sila scrambling for funds. Hanggang ngayon walang nare-release. When I checked with our records, 4 private hospitals nakatanggap na ng P21M”

“There were cases in the past na hospitals on record had received their reimbursements when in fact the hospitals denied they actually received the payments. So may sindikato na dinuduktor ang records sa PhilHealth to make it appear the hospitals had already received payments.”

Gen. Morales a Bad Manager, or Corrupt?

It could be both. You know, he admitted to have talked to Col. Laborte but he said I am not an IT expert, would not know which figure is correct. A simple due diligence would tell him the correct figure should be P62,000.”

Either one of two things happened to him. Either he is continuously by execom or his own people; or he could have been co-opted already. Make your choice given the response we got from him.”

When he was appointed, I expressed support because his reputation among the officers in the military was very good. But you know in my book, at least this is me, the real test of character of a person is when you give him opportunity for power or money. A person’s character cannot be tested unless he is confronted with these two issues, the issue of power and the issue of money. Kung wala ka pang opportunity and you are showing very good reputation and good character, di ka pa nag-undergo ng real test of character. Give him power or offer him money. That’s the test of character of a person, anybody for that matter.”

“There were cases filed with the Ombudsman. But what happens under the leadership of Gen Morales? Those investigated or facing charges before the NPS, they were promoted under Gen Morales. So we can more or less draw conclusions if he is being co-opted or being misled.”

Right now I cannot state for sure if he is co-opted or continues to be misled. But he’s been there for 1 year. When he was red-flagged by Col Laborte regarding grossly overpriced IT equipment dapat doon pa lang nag-initiate na siya at the very least an inquiry. Pero yan sinabi ni BM Cabading, notice the 5M vs 500M, ito ang in-approve sa ISSP nila approved ng DICT because subject to approval ng DICT ang IT plan. And these are some of the items listed by Cabading, who is a CPA. He knows his numbers. Kung ganito ang red flag bakit walang ginagawa ang PhilHealth president in the person of Gen Morales?”

PhilHealth’s Need to Enhance IT:

If I were PhilHealth president, may issue na 5,000 members na 130 years old na, di nila alam buhay o patay, mag-random ka na lang sana. Pa-check mo manually muna kung wala kang computerization system na ma-address ang situation. But what did he do? I think he’s just offering an excuse for the senators to be convinced that there’s really need to enhance the IT system of PhilHealth. And there’s no argument. We’re more than willing to support by way of the GAA that we’ll be deliberating on come September all the way to December. Willing naman kami.”

PhilHealth’s Request for Documents:

“Last night my staff called me, PhilHealth was requesting we release some of those documents to them, and listen to this, for them to properly address our questions on Tuesday when we resume the hearing. Dan I said, what are they talking about? All the documents came from PhilHealth! They should do their own research. Now they are relying on us, the investigators, me particularly, to release to them, requesting the presentation I made, the slides, the documents.”

Initially my reaction was, if it was to address the problems besetting PhilHealth, go ahead and release the documents. Only to find out later na ang purpose lang pala is to be able to address our questions on Tuesday. Sabi ko ano sila, sinuswerte? Sa kanila galing ang document hihingi pa sa amin ng dokumento. Mag-research na lang sila. Naghirap staff ko, naghirap kami inabot kami ng gabi sa pag-research, pag-scrutinize ng documents from PhilHealth, tapos ibibigay sa kanila just to be able to address the senators’ questions on Tuesday? Aba sobrang swerte naman yata.”

What gall does Morales have to even request me to release to them these documents so they can address? I thought he was requesting, because I was about to tell my staff release it to him. But when I asked for what purpose? I was thinking he wanted to get a glimpse of the documents so he can address the people inside PhilHealth and start investigating. And I’m willing to give him that. But when I was told the reason was that he just wanted to be prepared for the next hearing, I said, what the heck!”

“I told my staff, you tell them all the documents came from them. These are not plucked from thin air, these are not documents we invented.”

Request to the President:

All I can ask the President is take a look at the transcript of at least the hearing last Tuesday. Sabi niya unless I see clear evidence or proof of corruption against Morales, he won’t fire the PhilHealth president. So yun lang. Gusto niya padala namin sa kanya buong transcript of what transpired and concentrate on the responses of Morales and the other resource persons, yung members ng execom ng PhilHealth, and it is up for him to judge.”

Sabi niya noong araw just a whiff of corruption pag nakaamoy ka lang, you’re fired. This is not just a whiff of corruption. Very disappointing. Of course we do not question the authority of the President, yung hire and fire authority is always there, he is the President of the PH. In the final analysis, the buck stops, so they say, at his table. Pero kung ganito may pandemya na pagkatapos ganyan marinig natin, ako I was shocked.”

“It’s systemic. This has been going on for the longest time. Even during the incumbency of past presidents and CEOs. Kung whiff of corruption lang hinahanap ng Presidente as in the case of other officials, ang whiff di ba kaunting amoy lang eh. Yan ang definition ng whiff. Pero kung ganito na, I just hope the President can take a look at the transcript of last Tuesday’s hearing and eventually pag nakumpleto ang aming investigation, ang committee report. I hope that Malacanang will take a look at our findings and decide for themselves if there is still wisdom in keeping Morales and other officials in their posts.”

Most Abused Statement

“Ang iba’t ibang tao, iba’t ibang level ang sense of propriety. There are persons sensitive to the issue of propriety na kaunting issue they decide to take a leave of absence. But there are also people they’d rather say ‘I serve at the pleasure of the President.’

The most abused statement: ‘I serve at the pleasure of the President’. Sometimes the President cannot decide to fire an official out of so many reasons, mostly personal. Pero di ba dapat tulungan na lang ang Presidente, huwag na maghirap mag-decision?”

Suggestions to Revamp PhilHealth:

It’s more costly if we allow corruption to persist. If we allow 5000% overpricing, mismanagement of funds by way of IRM, in the guise of an emergency situation, and the can still think of milking PhilHealth out of its funds.”

We already said we are supporting the President all the way in addressing the pandemic. But if we see violations or corruption issues not being addressed properly, how can we continue? For example we passed on third reading Bayanihan 2. How much debt are we in now, P9T? I remember during our last year’s budget deliberations nasa P7.8T lang tayo. Utang tayo ng utang and we owe it to the next generation of Filipinos na mag-bequeath tayo ng magandang situation. Kung iiwanan natin sa kanila P9-10T utang and we see corruption issues not being addressed properly, at the very least we are being unfair to the next generation of Filipinos.”



Death Penalty Bill

It is being discussed in the HOR and Senate. We only have to resolve who will sponsor it on the floor. One of the bills is under my authorship. I authored my bill to re-impose the DP. We have not resolved because Sen Gordon being chairman of committee on justice and HR is supposed to sponsor and defend it on the floor but his reason is he is against it. How can you defend something you do not believe in? So we are now trying to resolve if a subcommittee chair will be appointed. Remember, this is not something new. In the case of the National ID, it was referred to his committee, at the time he was preoccupied with so many things as chairman of BRC so I was designated the subcommittee chair because I was vice chairman of justice. I defended the National ID system on the floor.”

I am basing my support to the DP on my experience as a law enforcer. In 1999 when Leo Echegaray was meted the DP and executed, we noticed sa presinto, there was an upsurge of complaints for rape. Ang sinasabi ng critics, see it is not a preemptive measure kasi dumami rape cases. It’s not the case, dumami report, even cases 5 years before the 1999 execution. They were encouraged, rapes committed 2-3-5 years ago they trooped the precincts to file a complaint, because something could be done pala.”

Only for High-Level Drug Offenders?

Ang bill ko covers other heinous crimes, even corruption and plunder. Ang original niyan heinous crimes. The consensus among senators is to limit it to high value targets, the drug lords, ang malalaki. Hindi drug pusher lang. Of course this will undergo some refinements.”

If I had my way all other heinous crimes. But the consensus among senators supportive of the DP bill is to limit it to high value targets in illegal drugs. There are so many … senators can change their minds depending on the progress of the deliberation on the floor because there are so many new information that would come out. So many stats and developments that could come out during deliberation even on the floor.”



What should DOH Sec. Duque do:

At least he already admitted the DOH has to re-strategize. That’s good enough for a start. But could they really do it? That’s another question. At this point when we are already tops in SE Asia in terms of infection.”

“So far I would say we are not succeeding in our fight against COVID-19. Kung No. 1 spot na tayo sa SE Asia, something must be wrong. It’s more or less consoling to hear Sec Duque talking about re-strategizing ang pag-approach sa COVID-19 pandemic.”

Health Workers:

Between human life and the economy I’d rather choose the former. We can sacrifice and govt can be more choosy in providing subsidies. Maraming issues sa distribution ng SAP. So if govt can kung di kaya bigyan lahat na dapat bigyan, at least those who need it most, and basic necessities at least ma-address man lang. By now dapat govt has enough database sa data management nila to provide subsidies at this point.”

“That was the issue I think that got the ire of the President. It is this point in our history we should support our health workers all the way. We’ve seen human interest stories of health workers and sa OSMA, I read somewhere a health worker nila sa hallway ng part ng OSMA. Nakita niya kaliwa’t kanan puro COVID pero hindi siya nag-waver, trabaho ko ito. But he was so fearful ma-infect siya kasi araw-araw yan ang daily (work) niya. So if it is not heroism I don’t know what is.”


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