SENATE President Vicente C. Sotto III on Wednesday asserted that the country’s health chief is liable, at least for abandonment or negligence, in the alleged widespread corruption in state-run Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth).
Health Secretary Francisco T. Duque III serves as chair of the PhilHealth board of directors, which regulates the agency, as provided under the law.
“Kung bakit kailangan kasama si Sec. Duque sapagkat siya ay chair of the board… Talagang di siya nakapirma dahil di naman siya voting pero chair ka ng PhilHealth (On why Sec. Duque should be included, it’s because he is the chair of the board… of course, he didn’t sign, he’s a non-voting member, but he is the PhilHealth chair),” Mr. Sotto said in an online briefing Wednesday.
He added that Mr. Duque should closely look at Article 217 of the Revised Penal Code, which states that public officers through abandonment or negligence shall be guilty of misappropriation or malversation of funds or property.
Earlier in the day, Senator Panfilo M. Lacson acknowledged that evidence is weak for the filing of criminal charges against Mr. Duque.
“Based on the three hearings of the committee of the whole, there may not be enough evidence to recommend criminal charges against Sec. Duque,” said Mr. Lacson, who is among the signatories of the committee report.
This is “for the simple reason that like the other members of the PhilHealth Board, he had no hand in the illegal implementation of the IRM (Interim Reimbursement Mechanism); nor was he involved in the procurement of overpriced IT (information technology) equipment.”
Nonetheless, Mr. Lacson said he is in support of the renewed push of the senators for President Rodrigo R. Duterte to replace Mr. Duque.
The committee of the whole, in its report following a probe, recommended that Mr. Duque and former PhilHealth chief Ricardo C. Morales be held liable for malversation of public funds and anti-graft law violations for the IRM.
The panel alleged that the mechanism illegally released some P14-billion funds, including to health care facilities that are not preferred to handle patients with coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).
Mr. Sotto said he is hopeful the committee report will be adopted by the Senate on Wednesday’s session.
Meanwhile, Mr. Duque said on Wednesday that he is “disappointed” with the Senate’s recommendation even as he earlier said he will cooperate with any inquiry following the committee report.
“If the findings are designed to remove me, let it be said that I have a constitutional duty to do my job unless the President says otherwise. If my service is no longer needed, I will go but I will clear the name of my father first,” he said. — Charmaine A. Tadalanand Vann Marlo M. Villegas